We’ve been picking the brains of Toby Litt. Toby is a senior lecturer in creative writing at Birkbeck College, London. He has published three collections of stories and eight novels and also writes the comic Dead Boy Detectives.
Photo: Kate Cooke
Have you always been interested in writing? Did you write stories from a young age?
For a long time, I was much more interested in TV and films than in writing. I realize now that I turned to books because of what you might call a sci-fi drought. Once I’d seen Star Wars, I wanted more – but there weren’t that many more decent SF films. (And there were a whole slew of godawful ones.) So I turned to Frank Herbert’s Dune, to E.E.Doc Smith, to whatever I could find with a spaceship on the cover. I was an addict – it was desperation.
I wrote the stories I was required to, by English teachers. But I started writing poetry in little orange notebooks I bought from the stationer’s over the road from my house. This went along with liking Salvador Dali’s paintings – and Magritte’s. I wanted to be a surrealist. But I was much more into painting than writing.
This one could be difficult for your modesty, but when did you realise that you were good at writing? Has it always felt natural, or have you had to train yourself and your craft to feel confident in the process?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, recently. I am writing a non-fiction book called Wrestliana about my great-great-great grandfather, who was a champion Cumberland & Westmoreland wrestler and a brandy smuggler but also a poet and a novelist. He was called William Litt, born in 1785. As I wrote about him, and the little I knew about his schooldays, I found myself writing about myself and my school days. I believe that, from the age of about five upwards More…