'Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms.'- Angela Carter

Friday, 16 February 2018

BLOG TOUR: The Toy Makers by Robert Dinsdale

Hello everyone!

Today I have the talented Robert Dinsdale on the blog answering a couple of questions about his latest novel, The Toy Makers. This magical tale is completely breathtaking and not one to miss.

The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter. It is the same every year. Across the city, when children wake to see ferns of white stretched across their windows, or walk to school to hear ice crackling underfoot, the whispers begin: the Emporium is open! Christmas is coming, and the goose is getting fat…

It is 1917, and London has spent years in the shadow of the First World War. In the heart of Mayfair, though, there is a place of hope. A place where children’s dreams can come true, where the impossible becomes possible – that place is Papa Jack’s Toy Emporium.

For years Papa Jack has created and sold his famous magical toys: hobby horses, patchwork dogs and bears that seem alive, toy boxes bigger on the inside than out, ‘instant trees’ that sprout from boxes, tin soldiers that can fight battles on their own. Now his sons, Kaspar and Emil, are just old enough to join the family trade. Into this family comes a young Cathy Wray – homeless and vulnerable. The Emporium takes her in, makes her one of its own. But Cathy is about to discover that while all toy shops are places of wonder, only one is truly magical...

Thanks for your time Rob and welcome to the blog! Could you tell us a bit about your latest novel, The Toy Makers?

The Toymakers opens on a winter night in 1917, when the doors of Papa Jack’s Emporium – London’s premier merchant of toys and childhood paraphernalia – opens its doors to the public for the Christmas season. Papa Jack’s Emporium is a toyshop feted by a generation; its old Russian owner, Jekabs Godman, survived a Siberian labour camp and emigrated to London to spend his life making toys for those less fortunate than him. The Emporium is now a sprawling store where the joys of childhood get crystallised and magic might just be possible. But the wars of the 20th century are being waged outside its doors and the glory days of the Emporium might not last forever…

The subject is much different to your previous novels. What inspired you to go down the route of magic?

A lot of it was to do with the birth of my daughter and the very particular kind of joy that brought into my life. In the past I’ve written novels about childhood (Little Exiles), surviving horrific moments in history (Gingerbread) and brothers at war (The Harrowing) – but in The Toymakers I was determined to approach those ideas through a new lens. A huge part of it was allowing myself to get swept up in the joy of imagining things again – something I think I was in danger of losing along the way. I dug out all the old notebooks and sketchpads I wrote and scribbled ideas in when I was a boy, and was reminded: writing doesn’t have to be hard work. It should be fun as well. I’m hopeful that the book works like this as well, as a kind of love letter to the imagination…

What was your favourite toy as a child? How would you have handled The Emporium?

I had a raggedy dog on wheels that we called Patch. He’s still around somewhere, fraying apart in the attic in my old childhood home…

I like to think I’d have been one of those trying to camp out in the Emporium overnight, finding myself a hollow between the shelves and exploring it after dark – but my mother would never have allowed it…

Were there any particularly difficult bits to write when writing this book?

I don’t want to give away too much, but the novel isn’t all sweetness and light. The Emporium is like childhood preserved in amber. But the reality of life is we can’t stay young for long, being a child is formative but fleeting, and sooner or later the magic starts to fade. There’s war and bereavement and a marriage coming apart in the novel, but perhaps the hardest thing to write is that bittersweet feeling of growing up.

You're a dab hand at the publishing process now. Which are you favourite and least favourite bits of getting a book out into the wild?

I don’t know if anyone is ever a dab hand! I certainly don’t feel like I am… Every book’s different and has a different journey. I can be terrible at editing my work – I always find that a really gruelling part of the process – and the nerves of course kick in when the book is about to be released into the world to find its own way. With The Toymakers there was one thorny edit I had to sink my teeth into, but it made the book what it is and, difficult as it was, it was absolutely worth the effort.



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