One of the goals of SPFBO is to give a chance to self-published authors to get more exposure. This year I’m taking part in the competition as an advisor for Fantasy Book Review’s judging team. I decided to offer a spot to the authors in our group and will post them throughout the year. To see all of our content regarding the competition, check out my SPFBO page!
Toby Bennett was born in 1976 in Cape Town, South Africa. He holds a degree in philosophy from the University of Cape Town. Like many writers he has had a varied career that has included graphic and web design, database administration and technical writing – and if you think you’re bored by that try living through it!
His true passion lies in creative writing. To date he has written several novels, predominantly horror and fantasy, and has appeared in various collections of short stories.
Welcome to the Asylum! Take a seat by the fire, have a glass of beverage of your choice and tell me something about yourself!
Well this is embarrassing, I’m so boring I only drink water… hey does that count as telling you something about myself?
I’m never sure how much to share.
There’s over forty years of detail here and even I can’t remember most of it.
I guess I’m just a normal guy… I put my pants on one leg at a time or at least I will until ‘the device’ is perfected. I’ve always wanted to write… the most natural ambition in the world, especially for someone diagnosed as severely dyslexic!
I’m a keen role-player and gamer and I’ve been in love with fantasy since my mother read me the Lord of the Rings when I was three.
"Say, you can live in the fantasy house/lair of your dreams. What would it look like?
Snake Mountain is taken right?
I wouldn’t want one home in one place. If I could live in a fantasy world I’d want to move around and gather stories …Is the lease up on Howl’s Moving Castle yet?
Either way there’d definitely be a winding staircase with polished banisters and a massive pipe organ, which despite all my best intentions I would never get round to learning to play…
Visitors to my abode might get a hurried, yet moody, rendition of chopsticks before I rushed them into the well stocked library filled with books I also mean to get round to.
What is your favorite fantasy creature and why?
Why must you make me choose?
The Leviathan has always struck me as an interesting beastie, something so epic and grand that its creator was loathe to eradicate it, yet so gargantuan that its mate had to be destroyed lest it overrun the sea. You might have noticed an aquatic flavour … It’s certainly true that I like things strange and tentically that lurk in the briny depths.
Above all I like monsters with pathos, and brighter creatures with a sense of humour.
Why did you decide to become an author and how did you end up choosing self-publishing?
I have just always loved to tell stories and play with language.
As I say not the most obvious match with some of the learning difficulties I had to contend with. The more people told me I couldn’t do it the more I wanted to.
There were all sorts of reasons I should have focused on doing something else with my life, but they all faded the moment the next story popped into my head and started rattling its chains.
As far as self-publishing goes, it just seemed more convenient to be able to put out my work directly.
I mean don’t get me wrong I’d love to work with traditional publishers given half a chance, but I just got to the point where I thought I wanted to see this book in the wild rather than languishing on my hard drive.
Adam: According to your Amazon author’s page, The Endless Ocean (which was recently picked as a semi-finalist) was one of your first books published. You’ve written a sequel, and several other books since then. Do you plan to continue this story beyond book two? Follow up: do book sales affect your writing plans?
It was the third book I ever wrote and there have been more than ten since then (not all have been put up on Kindle… some are still languishing on my cursed hard drive).
I do have the final book loosely planned, I’ve even written the first few chapters, but I’m afraid that book sales do affect those plans.
As a (usually) one man operation, I don’t like putting all my eggs in one basket so I am constantly trying various projects and genres — for example the sci-fi horror doorstop “VIRAL” which I co-authored with Benjamin Knox.
If people start clamouring for book three of Innersea Cycle I’m ready to write it, but I will admit it’s on the back burner at the moment pending more interest.
Currently, I am working my way through the last part in another fantasy trilogy… Prospective readers will be happy to hear I have written this one from start to finish to make sure that I tell the complete story in one go.
Perhaps, I can get back to the Innersea once I’ve got that done.
Which author would you say is your greatest influence as a writer?
Michael Moorcock was huge in my younger years (Tolkien I already mentioned). There’s also Robert E Howard and Lovecraft. Ursula Le Guin, Andre Norton… I think by now you should be able to see that I’m terrible at just picking a favourite.
If you could go back in time and offer any advice to a younger Toby prior to releasing The Endless Ocean what would it be?
Probably “read the whole thing out loud”… I learned the value of hearing your words spoken aloud much later. Indeed I read my more recent work, Cave Canem, out on youtube and it really helped me to find the gremlins in the story.
There are many decisions that you make as a less experienced writer that you may come to regret. For instance the first draft of the book one was written entirely in present tense, but I eventually re-edited it into past. So, I’d probably hit younger me over the head and tell him to make sure to pick the correct tense first time around.
I might yet give the whole series another polish (if I ever get the time), but then again I also wonder about second guessing myself now as a more seasoned writer. The Toby who wrote that book might not have known everything I know now, but perhaps he was freer for it…
What SPFBO means to you? What do you hope to gain (fame and wealth aside)?
Is there anything else?!
Only kidding, I know I’m not likely to get much money writing!
I suppose what I am really looking for is recognition, not for me, but for the stories themselves.
I think all the effort would be worth it if I could bring enjoyment to someone else’s life. In the same way that books brought me comfort and direction when I was younger.
I’m probably worse at self promotion than I am at spelling so really my biggest ambition is to let people know that my work is out there (fingers crossed they enjoy it).
What inspires you/your world?
That’s quite a tough one. I usually just find I have a story to tell. I start following that story in my mind and before I know it I am writing everything down. I don’t really think I have any kind of overarching ethos or ideal apart from trying to bring joy… or terror! (or a new hybrid I just thought up called dread-glee).
I’m sure there are patterns there if you care to look for them, but at the heart of it all is following a story I find interesting and hopefully, taking others along for the ride.
Which character of your book do you identify with the most and why? Who would you like to live with in an asylum?
In the Endless Ocean I think it would have to be Echo or Silth, they are both irreverent smart arses when they want to be and I enjoy that… whether I would want to be locked up with them is a whole different story.
Emma: What kind of person allows cat familiars to fall from the sky to their deaths?!
A sick, cold wretch of a human being who wanted nothing more than to tear at his reader’s emotions with ink stained claws…
Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the good or the bad ones?
We love the good ones and I can tell you they make an author’s day. It’s funny that even a few words of encouragement go a long way. It can often be the difference between writing that next book and not.
Of course, there are also less positive reviews but I think these can be useful too. One has to take any criticism seriously and try to learn from it.
I’m a great believer in “make the next one better” – so hopefully with each story I tell and get feedback on I improve a little.
When speaking to readers I’d like say, thank you for taking the time to say anything, few people do. Those comments can be a real spur to our work, and sometimes set us on the right path, but please also remember that there is a human being behind the curtain.
To aspiring writers: try and see the positive, don’t take any criticism too much to heart. Learn what you can and don’t let the negative opinions of others slow you down.
Are there any books that have been/ are being released in 2018 that you are excited to read?
I can’t really think of one off hand, with much of my “to read” list devoted to retro science fiction and fantasy I still have books I need to get to that were published decades ago (and there’re all these organ lessons I keep forgetting to take). If 2017 counts I am still keen get my hands on Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Fate… I’ve been really enjoying those so far. Right now I’m making my way through Dan Abnett’s Eisenhorn books.
While you are locked in here for eternity, we will allow you one book – what would you choose?
What’s with all these stark choices? (Gnaws at straight jacket.)
If I got the series perhaps Roger Zelazny’s Amber Chronicles or the full Elric collection. But if you push me I’d have to go my complete copy of The Lord Of The Rings.
Wait come back I might want to change my mind… Hello?
Well then, we hope you’ll enjoy your stay in the Asylum! Any last words? *locks door*
Hey, aren’t I meant to be the one in the padded cell?
What am I supposed to do out here in the corridor?
Please keep me company it’s dark in here.
If you’d like to get in contact with Toby Bennett, you can find him on social media: