20 September 2015

The Intel: Simon Toyne

Photo: Toby Madden

Solomon Creed’s been a busy boy since he staggered, barefooted, out of the desert from the burning wreckage of a plane.

Creed is the new go-to guy for genre thrills. Part Bourne, part Reacher, part Eastwood’s Pale Rider, he’s a mystery man with a mission – to save a dead man. And make no mistake. Creed is going to be huge – some guy called Leonardo DiCaprio has already snapped up the TV rights to his adventures.

But author Simon Toyne has also been taking his globe-trotting hero – the star of a planned sequence of five books – on a comprehensive Blog Tour, and they’ve arrived at Crime Thriller Fella’s manor just in time for Sunday tea and crumpets.

In this fascinating interview Toyne talks Creed, Steve McQueen, the supernatural – and what’s next for his enigmatic protag.

Solomon Creed is an enigmatic man – what can you tell us about him?

Well, obviously the more I tell you, the less of an enigma he will be, so maybe I should lie….

Actually it’s a good question because in writing him I discovered that it’s quite hard to render an enigmatic lead character on the page. It’s very much a cinematic trope - you cast an interesting, charismatic actor, you point a camera at them and you get them to say very little. Steve McQueen famously used to go through his scripts crossing all his dialogue out saying ‘I can do that with just a look’. If Solomon didn’t say anything he’d disappear. My solution was to filter him through the other characters. You see Solomon through various eyes and they all project something different onto him. Some see him as a saviour, others as a threat. The reader can make their own mind up.

Where did the idea for your Creed series come from?

Authors are often asked where they get their ideas from but I think a more illuminating question is ‘Why pick that idea over another?’ Writers have ideas all the time, everybody does, but most of them never go anywhere. In truth I have no idea why I’m drawn to one idea over another, I think they pick me as much as me picking them. It’s a bit like the grit in an oyster, something about one particular idea just lodges in your brain and accretes other ideas until it, hopefully, over a long period of time, turns into a pearl. It’s a painful and irritating process too, like a scratch that you itch away at until it eventually goes away. It’s a wonderful process too, allowing you to really explore things and drill deep into them to work out what you think about them. That’s writing - painful, irritating, wonderful.

There are elements of the supernatural in the story – what draws you to the unexplained?

Well the supernatural elements in this book are very contained, more like another flavour rather than the main ingredient, and they’re all centred on Solomon, who has no idea who, or even what, he is - so they might not be supernatural at all. Solomon may be an unreliable narrator. Or he may be deluded. Or he may be supernatural himself. Or schizophrenic. That’s partly for the reader to decide.

As a narrative element I think we’re all drawn to the unknown and the magical, it’s part of being human. I think we’re wired to try and figure things out but some things can’t be fully explained. One of the ways we have historically explained these things is to suggest that they are supernatural or miraculous. The more we understand the more we can explain things empirically or rationally but people still see ghosts and experience telepathy and deja vu and have premonitions. It’s a flavour of life, so I reflect that in my books.

Solomon CreedThe TV rights to Solomon Creed have been snapped up by Leonardo DiCaprio – when can we expect to see you hanging about on his yacht surrounded by a bevy of beauties?

I’m on Leo’s yacht right now, dictating these answers to a Brazilian supermodel who is a remarkably fast typist. I’m not sure how she does it with those nails, to be honest - it’s impressive.

You gave up your job in television to write full-time for six months, saying that it was ‘all or nothing’ - that’s an astonishing leap of faith – what made you do it?

I was creatively bored in television, making iterations of programmes I’d already made, and I’d always wanted to write a book, so I quit my job and gave myself six months to see if I could. I figured if I failed I would at least get it out of my system and could go back to TV with renewed vigour at a different company and do something more challenging. Either way it would shake me up. Sometimes it’s good to burn your life down and see what’s left.

I only wrote about a quarter of the book in that six months and ended up working back at the same TV production company I’d left, only as a freelancer doing a less involved job while chiselling away at the book in my spare time. It was perfect actually, I used to sit in edits writing scripts and while the editor fiddled about with the pictures I’d keep writing the book. It took me another year to finish it. That book turned out to be Sanctus, which was a big international hit, so I quit for a second time - this time for good. I’ve been writing full-time ever since.

What’s the hardest lesson you ever had to learn about writing?

That it doesn’t get any easier. I knew the first one would be hard because it was all new and I was figuring out how to write a novel, or how I wrote a novel because everyone does it differently. I thought the second one would be easier because I’d have some game but it was actually harder. The third one was a bit easier because the story was clearer but Solomon Creed was the hardest one yet. So what I’ve learned is that when you finish each book, all you have really done is learn how to write that particular book. You have to learn it all over again for each new story.

Who are the authors you admire, and why?

I admire any writer who manages to produce regular, good, solid, quality work, because I know how very hard it is to do that.

Give me some advice about writing…

Get the first draft down as fast as possible. You can always change it afterwards but you can’t edit an empty page. This is advice I routinely ignore. I tend to get stuck on the first hundred pages. I need someone to take away the first hundred pages the moment I’ve done them so I can’t tinker with them any more.

What have you got planned next for Creed?

Solomon is heading to France - with no money and no passport - to try and find the man who made his suit. He figures whoever made it must have measured him and spent time with him and so might therefore be able to tell him something about himself. What he finds is a bloody corpse and whole lot of trouble.


Solomon Creed is available now in hardback from Harper Collins.