10 questions: Toby Howden, author of Paper Tigers: Martial Arts & Misadventure in Japan

Today's interviewee in the ongoing series of questionnaire-style friendly interrogations of fellow Unbound Publishing authors (my noir thriller East of England is on its way from Unbound - details, including how to pre-order special advance copies are here) is Toby Howden. Here's Toby to tell us all a bit more about his book:

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1. Who are you and what’s your book about?

My name is Toby Howden and my book is Paper Tigers: Martial Arts & Misadventure in Japan, a memoir about an ill-judged attempt to become the real Karate Kid whilst working in a traditional Japanese paper factory during the nineties.

2. Why should folk read your book?

Because it’s a hilarious and heart-warming tale of friendship, following your dreams and how, when things don’t go quite as planned, there’s a better story to be told. It highlights many of the funny and painful faux pas you can end up committing in foreign cultures, plus, it’s all embarrassingly true.

3. What’s the appeal of your book?

I think travelling to the “mystical Orient” to train with martial arts masters is something many people have dreamed of doing, but few have ever considered the reality of such an endeavour. There’s an enduring curiosity about traditional Japanese culture, but most Westerners experience it through the polite camera lens of a tourist, or as a well-paid, segregated English teacher. I’ve yet to come across anyone else who has worked there doing manual labour whilst attempting to become a ninja - with good reason.

4. Sounds great! Where/when can I get hold of a copy?

It’s out now in paperback and digital in the usual places – Amazon, Foyles, Waterstones etc.   

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5. Describe a typical writing day, or at least a typical day with some writing in it:

My beautiful girlfriend usually wakes me with a martini as the sun rises over our private island hideaway. The sounds of the warm sea lapping on the sandy white beach drifts in through the billowing linen curtains. I fight off Ursula’s advances donning a tight black polo-neck over my muscular, tanned body and begin the first task of the day, pondering the tricky second novel.

Sorry, you mean my day…

I wake when it’s still dark, then commute far enough to ensure the complete destruction of the environment. Boring meetings, teaching and admin whilst daydreaming about writing. Home, family, kids, bedtime, wine. Not always in that order. Around ten o'clock I turn the computer on, stare at it wistfully and hit the PlayStation for an hour. At eleven o'clock I’m almost ready to begin. I open my current ‘work in progress’, check Facebook, Twitter, put some tunes on, mess about with Instagram, the news, then back to Facebook again. I‘ll then re-read my latest sonnet, ponder different fonts and maybe open more wine.

Around midnight I ignore the angry texts from my partner telling me to turn it down and come to bed, and suddenly, as if by magic, I’m in the zone and begin to write…

6. Pick one book about writing. What it is and why have you chosen it?

I’m guessing everyone’s already read On Writing by Stephen King. Brilliant for so many reasons and reassuring proof that truly great writers are not simply born overnight. Slightly more obscure but well worth checking out is Joel Stickley’s blog ‘How to Write Badly Well’, very funny and informative. 

7. Pick three books that have influenced or inspired you as a writer:

Lost in Place by Mark Saltzman, a truly hilarious and superbly written coming of age memoir about trying to get high and master Kung Fu in Connecticut USA during the 1970s.

Fantastic Mr Fox. Having three kids I get the joy and privilege of re-reading stories from my childhood. Re-visiting the Roald Dahl classics is pure inspiration. They’re a masterclass in creativity and the art of making supremely clever writing appear effortless.  

Angry White Pyjamas by Robert Twigger. A year in Japan completing the infamous Tokyo Riot Police Aikido course; made me reflect about my own martial arts experiences and persuaded me that it was something worth writing about.

8. Pick three desert island books - works you couldn’t live without:

I guess something by Ray Mears or Bear Grylls might be sensible on a desert island.

Hanta Yo by Ruth Beebe-Hill is pretty epic and definitely worth a re-read. The story of the Native American Sioux tribe. A heart-breaking book that forces you to reconsider modern definitions of ‘civilisation.’

The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin, a truly masterful writer, she created worlds and characters with such depth, I feel as though her books are old friends.

Can I take some pencils and a pad of paper and write one?

9. Any words of writing wisdom?

Writing a book is like reaching the summit of a mountain only to be confronted by the far more challenging mountain range of publishing; think Mordor rather than The Sound of Music.

Most people don’t care that you’ve written a book, many publishers are actually quite annoyed by the fact. Deal with it. Conversely, some people will immediately assume that you’re going to be the next famous millionaire celebrity JK, and a precious few will believe in your writing to the extent that you will be utterly humbled.

Also, ignore twats who tell you it can’t be done.  

10. Let’s make a movie of your book. Give me the high-concept pitch:

‘Wax on, wax off, wacked out!’ (Courtesy of Unbound). Or, ‘Man goes to Japan to master martial arts. Will he do it? No.’

Social media contacts:

Website: LLToby@twitter

Tobyhowden@Instagram.com

Unbound URL: https://unbound.com/books/paper-tigers

   

Huge thanks to Toby for answering my questions! As he says, Paper Tigers is available now from all good retailers, so you really don't have a reason to not pick yourself up a copy ...