Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Interview with Tom Toner, author of The Promise of the Child

Please welcome Tom Toner to The Qwillery as part of the 2015 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Promise of the Child is published on September 22nd by Night Shade Books. Please join The Qwillery in wishing Tom a Happy Publication Day!

TQWelcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Tom:  Thanks! I suppose I only began writing in earnest about four and a half years ago, when I sat down with some ideas and just never stopped working. The whole thing was a bit of an accident - I'd genuinely never imagined becoming a writer, and was pretty surprised by the time I'd banked a few thousand words and the feel of the novel was developing. Before then all I'd really wanted to be was a painter, having studied art at university and painted the odd commission here and there. Now, I couldn't imagine doing anything else.

TQAre you a plotter or a pantser?

Tom:  At first I pantsed it all the way, not having the slightest clue what I was doing, which with hindsight possibly made the whole thing richer and stranger for being so accidental. Now that I'm deep into the sequel and thinking carefully about a great many fine details in multiple future books, I can see the benefits of plotting. I still look at sections of The Promise of the Child that arrived organically and wonder where on earth they came from, so I suppose something could be said for winging it once in a while. I work in notebooks, sketching out ideas and scenes until they're as fully formed as possible, so there are stacks of the things on my desk, all colour-coded. The plans for books 4, 5 and 6 in the series (and beyond) are in there too, and I take a break to work on future stuff whenever I'm tired of what's in front of me.

TQWhat is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Tom:  Self-doubt and over analysis. I'm also fighting a losing battle with man boobs sitting here writing all day.

TQWho are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

Tom:  At the moment (while writing) all I'm reading are travel books (Paul Theroux, Colin Thubron, Bill Bryson and Patrick Leigh Fermor) and non-fiction like Jared Diamond. I have absolutely no idea if that's the right thing to do - like I said I'm seriously new to this and winging it - but it's a nice escape from fiction. My absolute favourite author, someone not remotely linked to SF, is Colm Tóibín; his 2004 book The Master is the most perfect novel I've ever read. I try to read it once a year in the hope that some of its beauty might one day rub off. As for SF, I'm a huge fan of the late and great Iain Banks, David Mitchell, Arthur C Clarke, Brian Aldiss and Stephen King (particularly his Dark Tower novels), though I'm not really very well-read in the genre.

TQDescribe The Promise of the Child in 140 characters or less.

Tom:  The 147th century. The world is elderly, a lair of monsters. In the heavens hominid trolls squabble as a shy young man runs for his life.

TQWhy did you choose "Amaranthine Spectrum" as the series title? Does it have anything to do with the meaning of the Greek amarantos ("unfading") the word that Amaranth is derived from?

Tom:  Precisely. It hopefully means something on each level, in a kind of fractal way. The first three novels will hint at a colossal story buried just beneath the surface, material I've been working on parallel to the Spectrum that will become the fourth book in the series. The Amaranthine themselves are unfading (an imperfect title that demonstrates more their own arrogance than anything else), and this is ostensibly the story of their time, told most often through the hapless life of poor, shy Lycaste. The novels to me are also all about colour, with a distinguishing palette for each one.

TQTell us something about The Promise of the Child that is not found in the book description.

Tom:  It's a novel with hideous giant protagonists, talking birdlife, men that live for tens of thousands of years in hollowed planets, singing sea monsters, silk currency, a villain with a surprising twist, foods and metals that grow on trees and vast foldable paper cities.

TQWhat inspired you to write The Promise of the Child? What appealed to you about writing Space Opera?

Tom:  The Promise of the Child wasn't planned as Space Opera - the first couple of drafts never left Lycaste's cove. I hadn't even thought of it as SF until a spaceship made an appearance, at which point I sat back and had to rethink the thing, realising I couldn't deny the SF geek inside me any longer. I'd been reticent at first when friends asked if I was enjoying myself, feeling a little self-conscious at indulging in such absurd science fiction all day while other people did grown-up things. But that's Space Opera though - that's the appeal. It's like turning up to direct a film and being told you've been given a trillion dollar budget and all the studios, prosthetics, animators, model makers and IMAX cameras the world can hold. How much you choose to use is up to you, but the extremes are limitless, and it was the extremes that I wanted to try to capture. It's the greatest and most intoxicating freedom, an embarrassingly enjoyable way to spend your day.

In terms of inspiration, it all arrived from a single thought. I was standing in the sea in Greece (wondering, as you do, whether there might be any sharks around that might fancy a leg or two if I went too deep) when I turned around and just looked at the beach. The place was the setting for Odysseus's kingdom in the Odyssey (an island called Ithaka that features in a few scenes of the novel) and everything had that hot, bleached look of antiquity, a place of wizened olive trees that stretch right up to the shore and brilliant blue water. I was wondering about the future of the place as I thought about its past, and trying to imagine what would be there, on that beach, thousands of years hence ended up as the beginning of a novel.

TQWhat sort of research did you do for The Promise of the Child?

Tom:  Quite a bit, despite the fantastical subject matter. Everything from the order of the closest stars to the distances between European cities is accurate, as far as I know, a nice solid background to all the craziness.

TQWho was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?

Tom:  Those that are most like me, I suppose, are the easiest to write: Corphuso and Eranthis are both fairly undiluted variants of my personality - a tiny bit worrying, come to think of it, since neither's human male.

Lycaste - despite the fact that I know his character so well - is more complex than a lot of the supporting cast, so not as easy to write as I'd have expected while still having the capacity to surprise me. The hardest character to write was the most opaque, in this case the antagonist, Aaron the Long-Life. Certainly, in The Promise of the Child, his true personality is veiled, filtered through so many layers that we only see glimpses of him, really.

TQWhich question about The Promise of the Child do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!


Q: Who would play the major leads in a movie adaptation of your book?

A: It's always fun to imagine stuff like this, even though I'm not under any illusion that it would ever happen. All the central characters that aren't Amaranthine would need to be distorted in some way, either through digital effects or outright motion capture (i.e the Prism). The Melius (Lycaste, Impatiens, Melilotis etc) could simply be performances augmented in post production, rather like the effects from Where the Wild Things Are. Even though I don't imagine their faces in great detail, Ed Harris and Marion Cotillard would make superb Amaranthines Maneker and Voss, respectively. Also, while this is certainly not the way I visualise him, I'd pick Benedict Cumberbatch for Aaron the Long-Life over almost anyone else I can think of, with Christoph Waltz making a marvellous Venerable Sabran.

TQGive us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery lines from The Promise of the Child.

Tom:  'Corphuso had only found out later - after hearing their unsettling slurping sounds through the night - that they used their own saliva to bathe, licking themselves clean with long pink tongues.'

TQWhat's next?

Tom:  The first draft of the sequel to the Promise of the Child - which I'll exclusively reveal here will be called Celestial Meridian - should be finished in a month or two, so I'm having a great time working on that at the moment.

TQThank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Tom:  Thank you!

The Promise of the Child
Volume One of the Amaranthine Spectrum
Night Shade Books, September 22, 2015
Hardcover and eBook, 460 pages

It is the 147th century.

In the radically advanced post-human worlds of the Amaranthine Firmament, there is a contender to 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 life is short, cheap, and dangerous, an invention is born that will become the Firmament’s most closely kept secret.

Lycaste, a lovesick reclusive outcast for an unspeakable crime, must journey through the Provinces, braving the grotesques of an ancient, decadent world to find his salvation.

Sotiris, grieving the loss of his sister and awaiting the madness of old age, must relive his twelve thousand years of life to stop the man determined to become Emperor.

Ghaldezuel, knight of the stars, must plunder the rarest treasure in the Firmament—the object the Pretender will stop at nothing to obtain.

From medieval Prague to a lonely Mediterranean cove, and eventually far into the strange vastness of distant worlds, The Promise of the Child is a debut novel of gripping action and astounding ambition unfolding over hundreds of thousands of years, marking the arrival of a brilliant new talent in science fiction.
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About Tom

Tom Toner was born in the English countryside to two parents employed by the BBC (his mother was a set designer for Doctor Who). He studied fine art and painting in Loughborough before moving to Australia to write. He collects giant fossilized shark teeth and recently returned to London, where he lives with his girlfriend.

Twitter @Tom__Toner


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