Interview with JJ Toner: Acclaimed Historical Fiction Writer

JJ Toner Books

I met JJ a couple of months ago through a social media/marketing outlet called “Books Go Social” (can be found here – ) and immediately struck up a writing relationship that enabled us to bounce ideas off each other obviously with a view to improving our writing. I asked JJ if he’d mind taking the time to be interviewed, the result of which is below. Hope you enjoy it.

Q: How long does it take you to write the first draft of a novel?

A: 3 months without major interruptions/distractions.

Q: How long to get the book edited, rewritten, and published?

A: 1 year, usually. Sometimes much longer. I started writing ‘The Black Orchestra’ in 2007 and published it in 2013.

Q: Do you outline the book before you start?

A: Yes, always. I need to work to a strong outline with a clear idea what will happen in each chapter before I can start. Having said that, the end result is usually completely different from what I envisioned in the outline.

Q: How do you promote your books?

A: A lot of social media activities, mainly Twitter and Facebook.

Q: What research did you do for your WW2 novels?

A: I read all the fiction I could find from the period. Christopher Isherwood, Philip Kerr, Robert Harris, Ken Follett, Hans Hellmut Kirst. For the factual milestones of the progress of the war, I relied on Wikipedia; for the specifics of German spies in Ireland: ‘Irish Secrets’ by Mark M. Hull

Q: What do you like to read?

A: I read lots of different kinds of books – mostly fiction. I’ve read almost all of Richard Dawkins’ books; I have an extensive collection of science fiction, and I love humorous writers (like Thurber and Wodehouse). I also enjoy strong mystery/crime/thrillers. I love Dickens de Maupassant and Steinbeck. It might be easier to tell you what I don’t read: romance, erotic or otherwise, chicklit, children’s books, anything paranormal (although I like Dean Koontz), anything with vampires, angels, or zombies.

Q: What is your favourite book?

A: That’s an easy question: ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’.

Second prize goes to ‘Perfume’ by Patrick Suskind

Q: Who are your 5 favourite authors?

A: Tricky question. Douglas Adams, Frank O’Connor, John LeCarré, Samuel Beckett, Colin Bateman.

Q: What 5 tips would you give an unpublished writer?

A: a) Forget about traditional publishing. Self-publishing through Kindle Direct Publishing is a much better option nowadays than looking for an agent and a traditional publishing deal. After you’ve published on Amazon, agents and mainstreaming publishers will contact you if your material is strong enough. If not, you have lost nothing and hopefully gained readership.

b) Before publishing, hire a good editor. Good writing is impossible without the assistance of an editor.

c) Writing is a continual learning process. Accept all constructive criticism with humility and learn from your mistakes.

d) Stay in control of point-of-view at all times. Head-hopping is the worst of cardinal sins.

e) Finish it.

Q: What do you do when you’re not writing?

A: I watch a lot of sport on TV – golf, rugby, snooker, tiddly winks

Q: What’s the best thing about being a writer?

A: It’s magic. It’s great to think that people all over the world are sharing my thoughts.

Q: What’s the worst thing about being a writer?

A: Lack of exercise.

Thanks for your time JJ, some common themes that would be echoed by other illustrious writers, but also some that are unique to you. I’ll make sure to buy ‘Hitch-hikers’ and see what all the hullabaloo is all about!

If you’re interested, you can buy JJ’s books on Amazon. They can be found on by clicking the links below:

1) ‘The Black Orchestra’

2) ‘The Wings of the Eagle’