With The Tower‘s release earlier this year, author Simon Toyne bid adieu to the world and characters of his Sanctus trilogy… or was it more of a “catch you later”?
Zola: You used to work as a television producer. What made you decide to shift from the screen to the page?
Simon Toyne: The desire to write a book was like a growing pressure dating back to my teens. I had always imagined that by the time I hit forty I would have written a novel. Aged thirty-nine I found myself with a healthy career in television but still no book and knew I had to either give it a shot or let it go. I was also frustrated by years of writing for TV. Television writing is great but it is all structure and dialogue, you never get to describe anything, and I wanted to stretch my creative wings so to speak. I felt I had to quit my job in order to have a good run at it as all my creative energies were being burned up by the day job and I didn’t want to fail just because I was tired. So that’s what I did. It was scary but then fear is powerful fuel: it helps you out run failure.
Zola: The first two books of the Sanctus Trilogy primarily take place in the fictional Turkish city of Ruin. The Tower differs from them in that it also takes place in the United States. What inspired you to do this?
ST: Actually both Sanctus and The Key also partly take place in the United States because one of my main characters comes from New Jersey, but you are right in saying that The Tower has much larger sections set in the US. As with all my books, everything comes from the needs of the story. I don’t sit down and think “I’d really like to set a story in America.” I just think about the story itself and the best way to tell it. The Tower refers to the Tower of Babel from Genesis and also a modern version of it in the form of the Hubble space telescope, which is also reaching up to heaven to probe the furthest reaches of the universe. Hubble is operated from Maryland and in the first chapter is disabled by a cyber attack that leaves a message on the control screens saying ‘Mankind should look no further’. The ensuing FBI investigation naturally takes place mostly in the mainland United States, so that’s why the book is set there.
ST: Again, the city of Ruin just grew out of the needs of the story. The inspiration for it came from an idea I had whilst driving through France. I had taken the decision to quit my TV job to try and write a book and my wife and I had saved enough to buy me six months off work. We decided to go to France off-season for a change of scenery and also to make the money last longer as we had rented out our own home to generate a bit of income. After a disastrous midnight ferry crossing in a gale we abandoned our plan to drive straight down to our new rented home in favor of a hotel and a few hours sleep. We detoured to the nearest city, Rouen, and as I drove in, dawn was breaking and I saw the silhouette of the cathedral against the lightening sky. At the same time a quote popped into my head that I had read years previously and always liked: “A man is a god in ruins.” There was something about the quote and the image of the spire that collided in my head and I ended up thinking about it all the way down to the south of France. By the time we arrived at our new home I had come up with the idea for Sanctus, a story about an ancient relic kept hidden away since the dawn of time in a mountain fortress at the heart of an ancient city. I did endless research trying to find a real place that might work for the idea but in the end nowhere was quite right, so I ended up inventing the city of Ruin and placing it in the foothills of the Taurus mountains in South-Eastern Turkey. The quote is now at the front of the book.
Zola: Religion is a major theme in all three books of the Sanctus Trilogy. How much of a role does religion play in your own life?
ST: I am, and always have been, fascinated by theology. It contains some of the most incredible stories in human history as well as tackling all the fundamental questions that concern us all: where are we from, what is the purpose of our lives?, etc. I also think organized religion often corrupts the purity of the ideas of their original prophets and therein lies a tension that is far too delicious and dramatic for a novelist to ignore, so I guess that’s why I spend so much time thinking and writing about it.
Zola: The ending of a series can be bittersweet for both authors and readers. How do you feel about saying goodbye to this series? Do you have any plans to return to Ruin through another series or is this the last we’ll see of it?
ST: That is a very good question. I have been writing these books now for almost five years, far longer than most celebrity marriages last, and so feel very strong emotional ties to all of the characters. In my case the break-up has been very sad but totally amicable. I always imagined the story as splitting into three distinct books and am delighted with the way each turned out. To try and stretch it further, at the moment at least, would feel wrong. Having said that, and even though I have made my farewells, I do keep thinking about the characters and the city of Ruin. I have also had some new ideas, not only for how the series could possibly move on but also about delving back into the world, maybe in the form of short stories or novellas that would follow some of the other characters. For the moment though I am focusing fully on a new series of five books that will follow a very charismatic new character as he tries to discover who he is. The first of these should be out in Spring 2015, always provided I’ve finished writing it by then.
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.