Thriller writer Simon Toyne and wife Kathryn at their Framfield home
- Credit: JIm Holden
His fictional characters live a life of crime, mystery and intrigue, but thriller writer Simon Toyne couldn’t be further removed from that world. Alice Cooke caught up with him and his wife Kathryn at their Framfield home
Oversized canvasses of grinning children with gappy teeth and scruffy hair greet you as you enter the home of Simon and Kathryn Toyne. I don’t know quite what I was expecting from a man whose books weave tales of murder and ever-twisting plots, but this wasn’t it – but then I wasn’t aware that his wife Kathryn is an interior designer.
The house itself is Georgian, with high ceilings, lovely big windows and massive rooms. “It was both a challenge and a blessing,” says Kathryn of the house that they looked around five years ago before it was decorated. “We had to completely gut it, but it’s been a real labour of love. Now we love it.”
But now, I point out, they’re planning to move out. “It’s what we do,” says Simon. “We’re pretty nomadic people, but to be fair when we moved here it was supposed to be our forever home – it was only our youngest child Betsy (known as Bean) starting school in Brighton imminently and being too young to get the bus by herself, that made us think differently.”
Betsy is the youngest of three children – Roxy is 11, Stan is eight and Betsy is three. And despite not hitting her teens yet, Roxy has already been making waves with her own writing ability. “She won the 500 words competition launched by Chris Evans on BBC Radio 2 in 2013 in the 10 years and under category – there were 90,000 entries! We really couldn’t have been prouder,” says Simon, before revealing with a smile that “she’s a real chip off the old block. I had to laugh too, because despite selling however many books I have and now being an established author, I have never been invited to the Hay Festival. But I was invited that year as her plus one – that really put me in my place!”
Despite always knowing that he “had a book in him”, Simon used to work in television, and it was through producing what he describes as “one of the first of the interior design reality shows that there are now hundreds of”, that he and Kathryn met. “She was the talent,” he recalls fondly. “We were supposed to have a short meeting by way of an introduction, but it ended up involving an awful lot of champagne and went on for most of the day. I supposed you could use the old adage that the rest is history.”
Their combined talents certainly seem to work well together – Kathryn is a Shoreham girl originally, while Simon grew up near Grimsby. “Yes, it was definitely her that brought me down here,” he says, before adding jokingly, “but there were a lot of great opportunities in Brighton for someone working in television too, so that helped too.”
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Having originally wanted to be an actor, Simon then turned his attention to writing screenplays, which is what got him into television. “But the films that I wrote were always hampered by the fact that I couldn’t afford to make anything but very low-budget, short ones – what I really wanted to write about was explosions and action!” He certainly does that now, and his first book, Sanctus, turned into a trilogy that has been published in more than 50 countries and 28 languages. Sanctus was the biggest selling debut thriller of 2011, and he Simon now working on a new five book deal.
When asked where his office space is he looks slightly sheepish. “I did have an allocated office space upstairs when we first moved in, but the children said it was spooky and weird and smelt funny. Then Kathryn completely re-did the whole floor and now it has the most glorious bathroom and all the children’s bedrooms up there and they absolutely love it. So then I was moved down to the second floor to a slightly nicer space, but to be honest if I am writing here I do most of my writing in my bed, or in the kitchen. I quite like feeling like I’m bunking off school, and if I’m sitting in front of a big computer then I think it feels too much like work, so it’s the laptop on the knee all the way for me.”
And when he’s not working at home, Simon is often to be found mulling over ideas or typing furiously in Brighton’s Marmalade Café. “It’s honestly the most amazing place – the food is great, the atmosphere is really cool and the people are fantastically friendly. I have my own daily tab because I am there so much – they call it table 100 because I move around the tables all day, depending on how busy it is. I feel guilty taking up a massive table if it’s really busy, but if it’s quiet then I like to spread myself out. I think the table 100 thing is pretty cool – I might write that into a book somewhere.” The café in fact is so cool that it’s often frequented by other artists in various guises, also formulating ideas. “I have a comedian friend who’s often in there dreaming up ideas. I’ve seen David Dimbleby in there a few times, and Nick Cave’s often there – in fact he has the same favourite table as me, so he often pinches my seat if I’m too slow. There must be something good about that table that makes all the good ideas come to life.”
Personally I can’t imagine why anyone would want to work anywhere but right here in the family home – it is at once beautiful, homely and practical, with some amazing original features such as a Lutyens fireplace, butler pulls and stunningly ornate cornices. “We will definitely be sad to leave here,” says Simon of the imminent sale. “But it’s such a happy place because of us as a family, so wherever in Sussex we end up, I know that it’ll be equally wonderful.” www.simontoyne.net***
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