Subscribe to Granta today

Interview: Toby Litt


Toby Litt’s novel King Death, a ‘minimalist romance’ and the latest in his series of titles that progress alphabetically, was published this summer. We have ten signed copies of the book to give away when people buy Granta’s ‘Best of Young British Novelists’ issue from 2003, which features Toby Litt’s story ‘The Hare’ – phone 0500 004 033 and quote ‘Toby Litt competition’ to buy one of our landmark issues and receive this one-off gift. Below, Toby Litt speaks to Ollie Brock about the attractions of a real human heart, gifts made of wood pulp, and the rest of the alphabet to come...

OB: Your name featured on the Best of Young British Novelists list alongside A.L. Kennedy, Zadie Smith and David Mitchell. What was that like?

TL: It was an ambition fulfilled. When the 1993 list came out, I was working in a bookshop in Wimbledon, writing in the evenings and at weekends, and behind the till when no-one was looking. I saw the anthology and, of course, I wondered whether I’d be eligible the next time it came round. I wanted to be picked, but I also wanted, even more, to have had a novel published. Just to have done that would have been enough. So, when I heard I’d got in, I felt a kind of relief. I felt pleased for 1993-me. Those ten years had got him pretty much where he wanted to be. Out from behind the till and into print.

Your latest novel, King Death, is narrated by the two members of a couple. Was one of them easier to write?

In a way the technical challenge of the book was to have it be very equally balanced between the two characters, Skelton and Kumiko. If one of them had obviously felt much easier to write than the other, I would have known something was wrong. As it was, I switched very gladly from one to the other. They were meant to be a couple that had split up but who were meant to be together. As a couple, they compensated for one another: Skelton’s soft­heartedness made up for Kumiko’s harshness; Kumiko’s ambition for Skelton’s indirection.

I have to ask – why a human heart? How did that come into your head?

The first thing I had of the novel was a sentence I cut. ‘Before I start, I should say that it was a real heart – not a metaphor or anything like that.’ So, the heart was the beginning of the novel. Its working title was The Heart. Once I knew it was Kumiko and Skelton who were going to find the heart, the novel was moving.

Short answer: I wanted to write a minimalist romance, so I needed to have plenty of Love and Death. A dead human heart is both.

The titles of your books progress alphabetically. We're at K. Does the rest of the alphabet weigh on you? What comes after Z?

No, the rest of the alphabet beckons me. (However, see below.) If I reach Z, after Z will come lots of people asking me what comes after Z.

I heard you talk quite sceptically about e-books on the radio recently. Is there a bright future for the book somewhere out there?

That really depends what is meant by ‘the book’. The wood-pulp/black-ink artefact is going to become a separate art form from the novel. It’s not going to be the main site of verbal storytelling. Instead, it will be what it’s been becoming for a long time: a gift. Either a gift to another, who likes nicely made wood-pulp/black-ink artefacts, or a gift to oneself, because one has nostalgia for how books used to be.

Visual storytelling already dominates the verbal. Once e-books become more sophisticated, some kind of hybrid form will surely emerge. Probably it already exists, as comics.

For me, the real question is time. If people no longer exist as subjects-to-be­written-about in the way they have, during the lifespan of the novel – if they spend more and more time in virtual environments, if they spend very little time engaged in real-time, physical actions – then the novel will die. This is because it is immensely boring to read about someone else’s experience in the virtual time of a pre-existing virtual environment. And also because, to people who spend most of their time in virtual environments, the time that exists in novels will seem immensely boring.

But this is presuming a technologically sophisticated future, and that’s presuming a lot.


To receive your free copy of King Death by purchasing Granta 81: Best of Young British Novelists 2003, call 0500 004 033 and quote ‘Toby Litt competition’.

‘The Hare’, Toby Litt’s story from that issue, is part of our online archive. Print subscribers receive free access to the archive; digital subscriptions can be bought here.


Photograph © Katie Cooke 2008

Comments (34)

You need to create an account or log in to comment.

  1. oblomovs

    Thu Aug 19 17:19:33 BST 2010

    Toby one could quite easily after "K" upset all those punters with an expectation that it will be "L..." and give them instead a number. But I suppose that is more the Douglas Adams' line of thinking. I agree re e-books.

  2. Khatri

    Sat Jul 12 22:16:01 BST 2014

    Great post i must say and thanks for the information. Education is definitely a sticky subject. However, is still among the leading topics of our time. I appreciate your post and look forward to more.

  3. Khatri

    Fri Aug 01 08:15:26 BST 2014

    wow, great, I was wondering how to cure acne naturally. and found your site by google, learned a lot, now i’m a bit clear. I’ve bookmark your site and also add rss. keep us updated.
    one minute herpes cure program reviews

  4. MuazaLas

    Wed Jul 30 16:16:39 BST 2014

    I was surfing net and fortunately came across this site and found very interesting stuff here. Its really fun to read. I enjoyed a lot. Thanks for sharing this wonderful information.

  5. Khatri

    Fri Aug 01 18:39:57 BST 2014

    Plum Benefits is a leading corporate entertainment benefits provider that specializes in providing discounted attractions and events for company employees. Plum had a specific focus on Broadway shows in NYC, the stable from which it was born.
    Check this link

  6. Khatri

    Sat Aug 02 15:42:15 BST 2014

    I also benefit from learning the assessments, but learn that alot of people ought to stay on essay to try and add worth in the direction of the authentic weblog release.
    guide book

  7. alikhan_095

    Tue Jun 03 04:26:45 BST 2014

    Wow! Such an amazing and helpful post this is. I really really love it. It's so good and so awesome. I am just amazed. I hope that you continue to do your work like this in the future also.

  8. noer98

    Sun Mar 30 05:11:27 BST 2014

    I agree But I suppose that is more the Douglas Adams' line of thinking. I agree re e-books..

  9. Khatri

    Thu Jul 31 16:35:55 BST 2014

    Brian Ludmer, a founder of Lawyers for Shared Parenting, sent this letter to the Canadian Parliament. In it are the email addresses for members of the Canadian Parliament who serve on the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.
    View this page

  10. Khatri

    Fri Aug 01 19:21:38 BST 2014

    Thank you so much for providing an experience and take on something I never thought I would find anywhere else.
    Key: carol cline potty training reviews

  11. Khatri

    Fri Aug 01 19:19:09 BST 2014

    wow, great, I was wondering how to cure acne naturally. and found your site by google, learned a lot, now i’m a bit clear. I’ve bookmark your site and also add rss. keep us updated.
    Key: carol cline potty training reviews

  12. alikhan_095

    Fri May 30 22:46:20 BST 2014

    I am looking for and I love to post a comment that "The content of your post is awesome" Great work!

    Detroit Tigers Store

  13. Khatri

    Fri Aug 01 16:42:45 BST 2014

    Tickets At Work reaches over 10,000 companies and 40 million users annually. We provide organizations with the ultimate way to reward and retain their employees with exclusive discounts & special offers for theme parks, attractions, events, hotels, concerts, movies and much more.
    Click this link

  14. Khatri

    Sat Jun 07 14:26:27 BST 2014

    I love your blog, I recommend to all people who love this kind of post to visit this site, I recommend it.
    iklan baris gratis

  15. Khatri

    Sat Jun 07 20:53:11 BST 2014

    I am really enjoying reading your well written articles. It looks like you spend a lot of effort and time on your blog. I have bookmarked it and I am looking forward to reading new articles. Keep up the good work.
    Online Services for #1 ranking starts @5 Dollar only

  16. Khatri

    Sun Jun 08 14:33:12 BST 2014

    I love your blog, I recommend to all people who love this kind of post to visit this site, I recommend it.
    iklan gratis tanpa daftar

  17. MuazaLas

    Thu Jul 24 05:10:34 BST 2014

    Very nice blog and articles. I am realy very happy to visit your blog. Now I am found which I actually want. I check your blog everyday and try to learn something from your blog. Thank you and waiting for your new post.

  18. Khatri

    Thu Jul 31 17:47:41 BST 2014

    Dr. Lubitz has expertise in performing a wide range of dermatological treatments, from medical dermatology with an emphasis on disease prevention, to skin cancer diagnosis and treatment to cosmetic surgery and skin enhancement.
    Check this link


    Wed Aug 13 07:33:35 BST 2014

    So the primary part here is that excellent company activities need to be strengthened by the whole market. We all need to do a better job of creating them a more useful experience.!/user/JasonHalpern3/timeline/responses

  20. Fabio Muher

    Fri Aug 15 09:22:30 BST 2014

    Download Software and Drivers Free
    This Blog Share About Download Software and Drivers Printer Canon,HP,Epson,Brother,Samsung,Dell,etc
    nice article brother...
    & don't forget please read vital info :


    Mon Aug 18 15:07:45 BST 2014

    This is a very well written article. I Was thinking That I Would never ever get a good item like this one goal you-have Proved me wrong. The chemistry of this article is absolutely right. There feels no sense of Any updating in this post.

  22. toko mainan alat bantu

    Wed Aug 20 17:19:47 BST 2014

    wow I am very sukali all with what you wrote. really very nice at all so I feel at home to read your posts.
    I say thank you a lot.

    toko alat bantu sex dan obat kuat.

  23. johnsmith3755102

    Thu Sep 04 07:23:09 BST 2014

    Really impressed! Everything is very open and very clear clarification of issues. It contains truly information. Your website is very beneficial. Thanks for sharing.

  24. alikhan_095

    Sun Sep 14 16:40:23 BST 2014

    Easily, the article is actually the best topic on this registry related issue. I fit in with your conclusions and will eagerly look forward to your next updates. Just saying thanks will not just be sufficient, for the fantasti c lucidity in your writing. I will instantly grab your rss feed to stay informed of any updates.

  25. Khatri

    Mon Sep 15 21:50:10 BST 2014

    Great post full of useful tips! My site is fairly new and I am also having a hard time getting my readers to leave comments. Analytics shows they are coming to the site but I have a feeling “nobody wants to be first”.

  26. bayusuixe

    Tue Sep 16 14:18:50 BST 2014

  27. Khatri

    Tue Sep 16 18:33:42 BST 2014

    Wonderful post. Thanks for sharing this helpful information. I wish your achievement of your site. Really ,your blog provide informative information. Have a pleasant day.

  28. Soundcreeps

    Wed Sep 17 00:21:43 BST 2014

    Soundcreeps Games
    Free PC Games, New PC Games, Best PC Games, Games Online, Top PC Games, Computer Games, PC Games ISO