The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale: Review & Interview

The Toymakers Robert Dinsdale

The Toymakers is Robert Dinsdale’s fourth novel, following his critically acclaimed books The Harrowing, Gingerbread and Little Exiles.


The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale: Summary


A toy cannot save a life but it can save a soul.


1906, Cathy Wray is looking for an escape. The baby inside her is too small to be seen by the outside world but her parents have already planned to send her away before she begins to show. She’ll be hidden away until after the baby is born, it will be taken from her and she’ll never see it again. She may not love the baby’s father but she knows she can’t give the baby away. When she sees an advert for a job in London at The Emporium toy store she knows it’s her only hope.


Help Wanted

Are you lost? Are you afraid Are you a child at heart.

So are we.

The Emporium opens with the first frost of winter.

Sales and stocktaking, no experience required. Bed and board included.


She’s welcomed into The Emporium family and embraces the magical world of the renowned toy shop, but as the season draws to a close her bump starts to show the shops seasonal closure draws near. There’s no way the owner of the store, Papa Jack will let her stay on through the summer when the shop is closed, and although she gets on well with his two sons, Kaspar and Emil (especially Kaspar), she can’t help but worry for her and her baby’s future.


However, Kaspar is watching Cathy closer than she knows and once he realises she has a baby on way he reaches out and helps her to hide within the tardis-like walls of The Emporium. Concealed in a wendy house, surrounded by giant paper trees and pipe cleaner birds, love is found, a heart is broken and a new life is brought into the world.


The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale Review


The Toymakers is a magical story set in one of the most enchanting locations I’ve ever read. The Emporium and its toys are brought to life by Robert Dinsdale’s incredible descriptions of patchwork dogs, toy soldiers and canned instant trees. I think I could have read an entire book just about the shop and the toys within it. Mental images of the shop are still dancing around my head days after I’ve finished the book. The shop is a place of fantasy, toys are as alive as their creators and the shop is as large as a child could dream.


Although Cathy comes across as the lead character one of the main storylines is the ongoing competition between brothers Kaspar and Emil. Whether it’s love from their father, toymaking, game playing or Cathy herself, everything is a competition. Emil feels he constantly lives in his older brother’s shadow, even when the realities of war encroach on the sanctuary of The Emporium and their lives change forever.


The emotional highs of the first half of this novel are followed years later by the pain of war and the damage it brings. This contrast makes the second half of the novel even more evocative and really hammers home the importance of the unique world that Papa Jack creates within The Emporium.


The Toymakers is a wondrous story of magic, love and sibling rivalry. In our current national, political and general world climate, escapism like this is hugely welcome and much needed. The Toymakers is to adults what Papa Jack’s toys are to the children within its pages, it’s an opportunity to glimpse into a world of wonder and be amazed. Visit The Emporium yourself, you won’t be disappointed.



Interview with author Robert Dinsdale


Robert Dinsdale


Hi Robert, welcome to The Tattooed Book and thank you for taking the time out to answer some questions.

Thank you for having me!


What five words would you use to describe The Toymakers?

Warring, yearning, nostalgic, magic, love


What was your hardest scene to write?

This is so difficult without veering into spoiler territory! But suffice to say there is a death in the book that wasn’t quite planned, but naturally had to happen. I hope it’s a beautiful, contented end for the character, but there’s great sadness in it too.


Are any of the characters in The Toymakers based on real people?

Nobody exclusively, but bits of the people you know and love always creep into the book somehow – so, while no one character is a cypher for a real person, I can recognise aspects of my family and friends and old colleagues in Cathy and Emil and Papa Jack. I’m afraid to say it but I recognise bits of myself that have unwittingly crept in too – and, for some reason, it’s always the aspects of myself I’d really rather not think about that somehow find their way onto the page.


Do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with bad or good ones?

I would love to be one of those authors stoic and honourable enough not to read reviews, but, well… I’m not. I check in here and there – it’s healthy to know what people think of the book – but I try not to put too much stock in the good or the bad. People like and dislike books for lots of reasons and that’s OK. I did once get a piece of hate mail though which, given the kind of book The Toymakers is, seemed excessive. It wasn’t that bad, surely…


Where there any scenes or people you loved but had to edit out of this book?

There are scraps lying around (there were far too many toys to get into this novel; I should catalogue them at some point), but actually I was really lucky. When the good people at Del Rey acquired the novel, I had some editing to do – and, by chance, it allowed me to work back in some writing I’d left on the cutting room floor. In the original version, for instance, we didn’t get to see nearly as much of Papa Jack’s own history and the birth of his toymaking life. The novels full to bursting now…


What did you do with your first advance?

I think I stopped eating out-of-date food from the supermarket spoilage section that week, and treated myself to an online shop…


What is the first book that made you cry?

I think I have only ever cried wholeheartedly at two novels: most recently, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a book I’d defy any father with a heart not to sob at; and, way back in the mists of time, a children’s novel called The Fox Cub Bold by Colin Dann. Its bittersweet ending nods at Watership Down – a battle is won, but a life well spent is lost. I’ve loved bittersweet endings ever since.


What’s your favourite under-appreciated novel?

The Solitude of Thomas Cave by Georgina Harding is one of the most perfect novels. It has its fans but not nearly enough. Its arctic landscapes are bleak and yet beautiful and, for a small novel, it feels so vast as well. I can’t say much more without spoiling the story, but this is the book I have most often given as a gift.


If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?

It would have been Gulliver’s Travels, without a doubt. It is, perhaps, the earliest book to use the fantastic to make comment on the modern moment, and I love it that it was as appealing and engaging for me as a six-year-old boy, looking at pictures of the Lilliputians tying Gulliver down, as it is for me as an adult.


Are you working on anything new at the moment?

I am, but it’s probably too early to say much about it. I worry that, as soon as I talk about an idea, it turns to slush. It’s the same reason I hate writing outlines of books before I’ve written them – it ruins the magic… So all I can really say is: watch this space…


Read an extract of The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale now.


If you like this you’ll love The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.




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