Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Q&A with Simon Toyne

Simon Toyne joins us from the UK today to answer all of our questions about his career and his new book, The Searcher.

What is the best thing that has happened to you as a result of your novels? 

The absolute best thing about being a full-time writer is that I get to work at home and set my own hours. This means I have breakfast with my family every morning, take my kids to school and pick them up most days. If they have sports matches or carol concerts or school plays I don’t have to ask anyone’s permission to be there. I get to eat every meal with them and help them with their homework and tell them bed-time stories. In short, I get to watch my kids grow up, day by day, week by week, and that beats any position on a bestseller chart, translation deal, award win or conference call with Hollywood - and I’ve had those too.

How long did it take you to get your first draft done of this book? How much time do you spend in revisions? 

Way too long. The Searcher is my fourth novel and it was by far the hardest to write. Usually I do a detailed outline before beginning a first draft but with this one I was spending so long trying to figure out the main character, Solomon Creed that I decided to just write it and see where the story took me. Solomon is a man who seems to know everything about everything but nothing about himself. He has no memory of his past, or who he is, or where he has come from. He appears to walk unscathed from a plane crash but he has no memory of being a passenger on it. The only thing he has are his name, the tailored jacket on his back and a notion that he has come to save someone. This was the beginning I had and, other than knowing who Solomon Creed really is, everything else was a mystery to me too when I started writing.

Normally it takes me around six to seven months to produce a first draft but the first draft of The Searcher took almost a year and ended up being 182,000 words long - about a third longer than it needed to be. The revisions were brutal, and they needed to be, and the second draft ended up being about a 60% re-write, new ending, whole storylines and characters cut out. I did another top to tail re-draft after that, smoothing down the transitions and working on the pace and flow and then another polish after that, as well as the usual copy-edits and galleys. It was a painful process, but I think the end result is much richer and more layered because of it. There are whole swathes of stuff that didn’t make it onto the page but I think they’re still there in the DNA of the story.

What did you do to research the book?

Most of The Searcher takes place in a small town in Arizona, so I went to Arizona in search of one. There were certain specifics I was looking for, it had to be a mined out copper town, it had to have an airfield, it had to have an old church in the centre, flat desert on one side and a range of mountains behind. I drew up a list of places that had some or all of these, flew to Phoenix, hired a car and set off in search of my town. I went to Tucson, Tombstone, border towns, desert towns, ghost towns - stayed in mildewy motels and haunted mining hotels, found a few places were close, but none that had everything I needed. This ultimately, coupled, with what happens in the town, made me uneasy about setting it in a real place so, despite my research trip, I ended up making up a town instead and so the town of Redemption, AZ was born.

Having said all that the trip was incredibly useful. I walked through the desert and listened to what it sounded like, and smelled the creosote bush when the rain was coming, and felt the sheer physical weight of the sun hammering down on me, all of which made it into the finished book. You can cover a lot of ground on the internet these days, but nothing beats going somewhere and walking down its streets.

I understand that THE SEARCHER has been recently optioned for television. Can you tell us what that process has been like? Do you have any details about who might star and where it might run? 

    Indeed it has, by Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company Appian Way no less. It was both an exciting and nerve-wracking experience because they weren’t the only company interested so I had a month or so of being courted and having conference calls with various production executives from various companies. All of them wanted to develop The Searcher as a TV series, which I’m delighted about because I think the modern, long-form TV drama serial format is the closest thing to a novel there is. With a movie you have around two hours to tell a story so novels often get pared down to the bone and lose a lot of the stuff that makes a novel so rich and layered. A TV series generally has around ten hours to tell a story, so you can spend time with characters other than the protagonist and the sub-plots can work with and feed off the main narrative in the same way as they do in a book. Couple to this the fact that a lot of the talent that used to work in the indie movie sector - John Dahl, Michael Lehmann etc., - are now working in TV makes it a very exciting prospect.

    At the moment The Searcher is in early development stages, so I’ve spoken to Appian and eOne who are co-producing and filled them in on who Solomon Creed, the mysterious main character, is and where he’s going in book two, which I’m writing now. It’s too early to be talking stars and networks and there’s a long way to go yet. I’m just keeping my head down and writing the books and making them as good as I can make them. That’s the only thing I have direct control over.

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