Tag Archives: interviews

Author Spotlight: TOBY FROST

On my blog I love to bring you authors I love who I think you’ll love too. Today I’m thrilled to welcome the brilliant TOBY FROST into the Author Spotlight. Author of the utterly fab Space Captain Smith series, he is now writing a new, darker fantasy series, the first book of which – Up To The Throne has just been published. 

Toby Frost author pic

When did you first decide that you wanted to write?

I first started writing when I was about 12. I can’t remember why, or what it was that pushed me from reading novels to writing them. My first efforts were scribbled in a small blue notebook, along with illustrations. I don’t remember either the text or the story being especially good!

What interests you as a writer?

So many things! Firstly, there’s a sense of exploring and creating. You’re showing the reader people and places, but you’re also creating them, so in a way you’re discovering them as well. I often find myself thinking “What if this happened?” and then following the story from there.

And then there’s characters. People are just fascinating, whether your book is set now, in the past or in the distant future. You’ve got to have strong characters that the reader cares about. That means that, whoever they are, what they’re doing has to make sense. I love seeing what happens when two very different characters clash.

For me, concepts like theme and subtext take second place to the story and characters. Because I write fantastical stories, I’m often writing about something in the real world through a surreal, magical lens. But it’s always got to feel convincing. I find history fascinating, and I often steal bits and pieces to make my writing more believable. Whether you’re talking about a trip to the shops or a journey to Mars, the reader has to think, “Yes, that’s what it would be like.”

Toby Frost SCS Books 1

Are you a plotter or do you write by the seat of your pants?

I never know how to answer this question! I think about what I’m going to write for a long time before I start. I’m often pondering a second book while I’m writing a first one. I think I’m probably more a plotter, but I do sometimes have moments where I stop and think “Hey! Wouldn’t it by better if I just did something completely different?”. So maybe 75% plotter.

Do you have a typical writing day? If not, when is the best time to write for you?

I don’t, really. I don’t find it difficult to write, and I’m lucky in that. I don’t have to be in a particular mood or even a place. Having a day job, I tend to work in the lunchtimes and evenings, but I’d be just as happy writing at other times. Preferably on a luxury yacht or my own private spacecraft.

Toby Frost SCS Books 2.jpg

What inspires you as a writer?

Pretty much everything! I’ve come to think that writing is a way of interpreting and processing the things I experience, albeit in a metaphorical and indirect way. Also, I’m influenced by history, by places and by other fiction, written and visual. So I’m always soaking up ideas and influences, although a lot get discarded. I don’t think I can switch that off – not that I’d want to!

What are the best things about being a writer?

One of the best things must be seeing my own work in bookshops. To see your own novel for sale with a great cover is amazing. A few years ago, I did a reading at a steampunk event and a man came up to me afterwards. He said that a friend of his had got very depressed after a death in the family, and my books had helped cheer him up. That was a pretty excellent moment, too.

And the worst?

It’s hard to think of any. Maybe the expectation that some people have that you’re extremely wealthy? If I had to point to one moment, it would be a couple of years ago at a writing convention, where I was on a panel with another author who I was trying to impress with my literary knowledge. I climbed up onto the stage and whacked my head on a low-hanging beam. After I’d finished staggering around clutching my head, I went on to do the panel, but my aura of genius was gone (if it had ever been there!). Goodness only knows what I said after being hit on the head.

Toby Frost book pic

Tell me about your new novel, Up To The Throne.

It’s a fantasy story set in an imaginary city in a magically-enhanced version of the Renaissance. Giulia, the lead character, returns to her home city after several years, to take revenge on the man who tried to kill her. She’s clever, skilled and still burning with anger, but the world has moved on, and her enemy is no longer a criminal but a rising politician with designs on the throne. Killing him could throw the principality into chaos. As she closes in on him, she starts to realise just what taking her revenge will do to the people she cares about, and has to make hard choices.

How have you found writing a darker fantasy series? Has it required a different approach to your Space Captain Smith books?

It is different, because it stresses different things. Usually, I worry if I’ve gone for very long without telling a joke. Here, it’s more that I’ve got to keep the atmosphere up, and keep the story moving. The same basics of character and storytelling are still there, but a more serious story needs a more engrossing plot. However, in terms of actually writing it, it’s been very similar. Things have inspired the writing in much the same way, and the characters and setting of Giulia’s fantastical Renaissance come together in much the same way as the Space Empire does in Space Captain Smith.

If you could have a dream cover quote from any author, living or dead, who would it be?

“It filled me with laughter, joy and hope for the future.” – George Orwell.

What are your top three tips for writers?

Well, first up, a disclaimer: the more I write, the less comfortable I am in telling other people how to do it. I don’t think there’s a set route to good writing, much less to getting published. But, since you asked…

1) Practice. Get used to the experience of turning thoughts into words. The main cause of books never getting into print is that they’re never finished. Practice not only improves your writing, but gets you into the habits of writing and editing. The task of putting words down becomes much less daunting once you’ve got accustomed to it.

2) Learn about writing. In the past, I would have said “Read more books” here, but it’s not just reading: it’s understanding and learning from books, TV shows, films, real life and anything else. You can learn a lot reading good-quality novels outside your usual genre. Personally, I get a lot out of reading how-to books (Stephen King’s On Writing is particularly good), but it varies from person to person. One very good way of learning is to go to events or join a writing group. My own writing improved vastly after joining the St Albans writing group.

3) Persist! It’s easy to be put off by your first few rejections, but you have to get used to it and carry on. If the first book you write isn’t a massive success, don’t give up. Start work on another project (but don’t throw the first one away! You never know, after all). Keep learning, keep going to events, making contacts, finding out new things. You might find that something you couldn’t get traditionally published works well as a self-published book, or vice versa. The important thing is to stay enthusiastic about your writing and always keep trying to improve and succeed.

Do you have a dream project you’d love to write?

I’ve got two! The first is a series of epic fantasy novels set in the same world as Up To The Throne. They’d have a wider setting and be about more powerful characters, but they’d tie into the Giulia stories and tell a grander, longer story. The other project is a set of linked novellas with an ensemble cast, about the futuristic secret service glimpsed in the Space Captain Smith books. Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve started work on both…

Thanks so much for braving the Author Spotlight! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Only that Up To The Throne is available on Kindle and in paperback. Just click this link!

How fab was that?! I’m a huge fan of Toby’s writing and can’t wait to read Up To The Throne. You can find out more about Toby at his website, on Facebook at tobyfrostauthor and follow him on Twitter @isambardsmith. Watch out for more Author Spotlights coming soon! 

Brilliant Bookshops – Chicken and Frog, Brentwood

As a writer, I am addicted to bookshops. They are magical places – and I believe we need to celebrate and support them. In my new novel, I’ll Take New York, Bea James owns a bookshop in Brooklyn, fuelled by her lifelong love of books. So I decided to invite wonderful, real-life bookshops to tell their stories in my new Brilliant Bookshops feature!

First to step into the Brilliant Bookshops spotlight is the gorgeous CHICKEN AND FROG BOOKSHOP in Brentwood, Essex…
Tell me about your shop!

We are the only independent bookshop in Brentwood, Essex. The shop is a family-run business with Jim and Natasha Radford as the owners. Our eldest, Alice, helps out after school and on the weekends sometimes, as does Natasha’s dad.

We stock children’s books (up to YA), but are happy to order in other titles for anyone. Chicken and Frog has been open for almost 18 months (October 2012). As well as children’s books, we are also a tuition centre, running classes every week-night after school and some holiday classes, too.

What services/events/promotions do you offer customers?

We are passionate about being a place for our community. There are weekly Rhythm & Rhyme sessions and story times, all of which are free. There’s a box of Duplo and a colouring table, too.
Authors and illustrators have been very kind and offered to spend time with us for events. So far, we have been visited by: Lucy Coats, Martin Brown, Nick and Annette Butterworth, Christopher William Hill, David O’Connell, Karen McCombie, Mo O’Hara, John Dougherty, Laura Dockrill, Steve Lenton, J.D.Irwin, Michelle Robinson, Caryl Hart, Tamsyn Murray, Sara Grant… and we have events booked in with Andy Robb, Jim Smith, Dan Freedman and Eva Katzler. All of these events have been free, as we want reading to be accessible to everyone.

We work very closely with local schools and the theatre to promote reading within the community. Natasha runs CPD for teachers, as well as our tuition centre (English, Maths, 11+, ESL for adults), where we employ two qualified teachers plus Natasha to deliver lessons. The lessons are as affordable as possible (£15 per session) with four students per group.

We were awarded a community fund last year, in order to provide a free tuition programme to families who cannot afford fees. This service has continued, although the funding has not!
We were awarded Barrington Stoke’s Bookseller of the Month in December – we love their books for dyslexic and reluctant readers.

Our loyalty card rewards our regulars with a 20% discount once they have spent £50 on books. A 10% discount plus free delivery is standard for all schools and individual teachers, too.

School holidays are filled with lots of events, including Lego challenges, writing workshops, cooking… guitar lessons, art club, handwriting club…we do a lot! As great as it would be to just have a quirky little bookshop, that’s not viable. We can’t compete with Amazon or Sainsbury’s etc on price, but we do hand sell books, offering advice and time to read on the sofa.

What inspired you to open a bookshop?

This may sound cheesy, but we have wanted to own a children’s bookshop since we met at 16. Jim was made redundant and couldn’t find a job. He didn’t get any redundancy money, but we took it as a sign to go for it. Our lovely children were very involved in the decision because it meant a big lifestyle change for them. They love it and so do we. Celebrating and promoting books is what we love.

What do you love most about your business?

That’s a tricky one! Inspiring a reluctant reader to pick up a book or listen to someone else read is wonderful. We also encourage children to write, with our annual writing competition and creative writing club.

What more can you tell us about your bookshop?

The future is looking bright. Book sales have more than doubled since we opened, we have been asked to work with local primary schools to promote literacy (utilising their pupil premium allowance), authors continue to support us and our customers are amazing. We feel extremely fortunate to be a part of the community. It’s very hard work, but it’s worth every moment.

Other stuff we’re proud of: we are a FairTrade business, we collect in second-hand books to redistribute to children’s homes/surgeries/hospitals etc, we sponsor one of the Brents (local theatre awards), we donate books and book tokens to various charities throughout the year and we donate surplus WBD books to local schools.

Thanks so much to Natasha from Chicken and Frog Bookshop for a great interview! The shop looks incredible – if you’re near Brentwood, pop in and say hello!

Visit Chicken and Frog Bookshop at: 7 Security House, Ongar Road, Brentwood, Essex, CM15 9AT, tel: 01277 230068. Check out their website: www.chickenandfrog.com, follow them @chickenandfrog on Twitter and at chickenandfrog on Facebook. You can also find them on Hive. Don’t forget to mention you’ve seen Chicken and Frog on my blog!

Do you have a favourite bookshop you’d like to nominate for this feature? Are you a  bookseller who would like to take part? Email me at: mirandawurdy@gmail.com!