Ginger Nuts of Horror
Tim Lebbon was born in London in 1969. He has been writing ever since he can remember. The first story he recalls actually finishing was when he was nine years old. It involved a train hijacking, and one of the hijackers being clumsy enough to drop his gun. Naturally the hero found the gun and went on a killing spree. Die Hard on the 10:17 from Paddington.
His first published story was in the UK indie magazine Psychotrope in 1994, and in 1997 Tanjen published his first novel Mesmer. Since then he's had almost thirty books published in the UK and US by Bantam Spectra, Allison & Busby, Night Shade Books, Simon & Schuster, Leisure Books, PS Publishing, Necessary Evil Press, Cemetery Dance and many others.
Hello Tim, how are things with you?
All good thank you! Still writing, still running, still bald.
Let’s start with some quick getting to know you questions. Which fictional character would be you perfect neighbour, and who would be your nightmare neighbour?
That's an interesting one! Perfect neighbour would be Dr Jekyll. The guy's a genius, and his modern incarnation would almost certainly attract lots of media attention. I could place certain books of mine on his shelves for some free publicity. Nightmare neighbour would be Mr Hyde. He's monstrous!
Actually ... I see a problem with this.
What was the last great book you read, and what was the last book that disappointed you?
Last great book I read was Survivor on the River Kwai by Reg Twigg. A true horror novel, but uplifting and joyous, too. It's was particularly resonant for me as my father, who died when I was very young and who was much older than my mother, was also a prisoner of the Japanese during WW2. In fact his and Reg Twigg's experiences seemed very similar––captured at the fall of Singapore, kept in Changi Jail, and then shipped north to work on the Railway of Death. A shattering book to read, it had me crying on a train.
Last disappointing book ... I hate to speak ill of one of my very favourite writers, but I was disappointed with The Quarry by Iain Banks. Perhaps because I knew it was the last new novel of his I would ever read, I was expecting more. He's one of the greatest writers this country has ever produced, and he'll always be one of my favourites. I still have 3 or 4 of his SF novels to read, and I'll treasure them.
What’s your favourite food?
Probably Indian food. Or maybe Chinese. Although I also love Italian. And I cook a mean Jambalaya. And sometimes you just can't beat a bacon bagel. I eat a lot.
Who would be on the soundtrack to your life story?
Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Flogging Molly, Radiohead, Motorhead, and probably Clannad for those more moody, introspective moments.
You are an author who doesn’t like to be tied down to a particular genre, do you have a favourite genre to write in? And are you ever concerned with genre labels?
My concern with genre labels goes as far as my publishers' concern. For instance, right now I'm working on a new book proposal for a publisher who has published two horror novels of mine, so I know that they'll be looking for something with horror elements. But when I have an idea it doesn't necessarily present itself as a horror idea, or a fantasy. It's just a story.
I talk a lot about balancing art against commerce ('against' being the wrong word, because the two don't necessarily have to be in conflict). That is, being aware of the commercial side of what I do––which I have to be, because I do this for a living––as well as enjoying the creative process and the unearthing of stories. I like to think I have a pretty good balance between the two forces ('my young apprentice!'). Even when I'm working on tie in projects (two of the latest being Star Wars and Alien), it's always work in a universe that really interests me. I was once offered an original tie-in novel project in a universe I didn't know that well, and wasn't much a fan of, and I turned it down. I really enjoy every book I write, my own original and tie-ins, and my awareness of genre labelling usually works pretty well. I've never delivered an historical naval romance to a publisher expecting a horror novel. Although there's still time.
You are also an author who seems comfortable writing for both the established presses and the specialty presses such as Spectral Press. What do you see as the benefits of working in the two fields?
I love writing novellas. The market for novellas in the mainstream isn't huge, so to have the freedom of working with Spectral, or PS, or CZP, frees me up to write novellas and make them, frankly, as weird as I like. I adore writing novels, but now and then the quicker fix of a novella can work as a refreshing change between 6-month novel marathons. I'm also writing a lot more short stories lately. I've written and sold four in the last four months. And that makes me happy.
It seems like a lifetime ago since I first read Mesmer, looking back at the intervening years what do you think has been the hardest lesson you have learned with regards to the writing game?
I'm always learning. As for hard lessons, I'm not sure. I don't think there are any easy lessons to be learned, because I don't find it an easy way to make a living. Wonderful, yes. Frankly, I think I have the best job in the world, and I appreciate that fact every single day. But I rarely find writing itself easy. Sitting down and facing the blank page is pretty tough every time, and (ask my wife) when I'm halfway through every novel it's the worst piece of sh*t I've ever written. Then I finish, start editing, and usually surprise myself with how good it is and how much I like it. It's a process of self-torture every time. I certainly don't want to sound like one of those 'writing is pain, it's tearing my soul out!' people, because I really don't think that. I'm blessed to be able to make a living telling stories. But that doesn't mean it's an easy thing to do. In fact, I suspect that if I ever started to find it easy then those novels really would be sh*t.
It’s been a busy year for you, what have been some of the highlights for you?
My big apocalyptic-alternate-world-zombie novel COLDBROOK is out in the USA at the beginning of April, and that's something I've been waiting to see for a while. It was great having it published over here by Hammer/Arrow, but it's the mighty Titan bringing it out in the USA. I think it's one of the best books I've written, and I can't wait to hear what the American audience think of it.
It was also a real blast seeing my original Alien novel, Alien: Out of the Shadows published. It's popping up all over the place, I've done dozens of interviews, and fan reaction has, overall, been amazing. I was worried about that.
You have recently published a couple of tie in novels Star Wars : Dawn of the Jedi, and Alien Out of the Shadows. I’m always intrigued by tie in novels. I take it you are a fan of both franchises?
Yep, see above. I've been so lucky to be able to work in both universes, and I'd love to do so again. I'm a big fan of both, although it was Alien that was a dream-come-true job. I pitched an Alien novel to Dark Horse years ago, but then they stopped doing them. And the Star Wars offer took me less than a second to accept. Great fun!
How did you go about getting each franchise? Did you pitch your ideas for the novels or did you have to pitch for an already developed concept?
The Alien idea came directly from Fox, and Titan (the publisher) approached me. It's a loose trilogy, with book 2 by James A Moore and book 3 by Christopher Golden. The basic concept was there, but we were given free reign to work up the stories and characters, so there were really few restrictions. Working with Fox as great, actually, the only note they gave me was a very good one that made it a much better book.
As for Star Wars, I was also approached by Del Rey/Lucas Books (I'd worked with an editor at Lucas Books previously on an original Hellboy novel). The placing of my novel in the timeline was stipulated, to tie in with the comics Dawn of the Jedi. But other than that it was my story, my characters. It was a difficult process to begin with, making sure my story wouldn't collide with anything the comic writers had planned. But a great process, with a bunch of very creative and passionate people.
If you could get any concept published for any franchise what would be your dream concept and franchise to work with?
Hmmm.... that's difficult, seeing as I've already worked in Alien and Star Wars. I'm a big fan of the series The Shield and Breaking Bad, it would be fun to see what happened after both of those finales, perhaps.
So Alien 3 better than Aliens?
Nope. I like Alien 3. I think it's misunderstood, and although I knew there were production problems, I think it turned out as a really good movie. But overall, Aliens is my favourite film of all time.
Your fantastic zombie novel Coldbrook has also just seen publication in the US, what took so long for it to travel across the pond?
It took Titan noticing it to secure a deal in the USA.
It’s a classic big horror novel, something which we don’t see much of these days, why do you think that is?
Oh I think they're still out there. I've destroyed the world a few times, but this was my big-scale apocalyptic monster, something I'd wanted to write for some time. My next horror The Silence, is also apocalyptic, but it's also a much more restrained point of view, following one family as the world falls apart around them.
You have also just launched your own E-book imprint DREAMING IN FIRE, what made you decide to launch your own imprint?
The idea of all those backlist novellas and novels sitting on my hard drive doing nothing. And prompting from several friends who are doing the same. Everything I'm doing so far has been published before, although many of those novellas are pretty obscure, only ever having been published in limited edition hardbacks. And sometimes I'd think about that ... the work I put into them, and how I think they're really good and might only have been seen by 500 people. So I'm hoping to reach a whole new market, a wider audience, and the beauty of epublishing is that there's no shelf life. There are four novellas out so far, with two more to follow soon (and then many more novellas and novels after that), and they're now out there forever.
How does copywrite work on this, I take it you have to wait until the publishing rights revert back to you?
Yes, I can only publish work to which I own the rights.
Have you ever been tempted to go back and do some re-writing to any of the books?
No. They're of their time, and I see no sense in reworking something I wrote ten years ago, or even five. Where would it end???
Where would you suggest that readers who are new to work should start?
Perhaps with the first novella I put out there, White. It's probably been published 7 or 8 times already in various collection and Years' Best anthologies, but it remains one of my most popular novellas.
Will we be seeing a reprint of A Whisper of Southern Lights?
Absolutely! Actually, the Assassin Series (three novellas so far), is the one area where I'm considering epublishing something new. I've always wanted to finish that series, and there are at least 2 or 3 more stories to go. So when I publish the original three, if reaction is good I'll start writing and publishing new stories as ebooks.
Who is your favourite character from your book and why?
I really like Lanoree Brock from my Star Wars novel. And from Coldbrook, Jonah Jones is a favourite. A grizzled, grumpy old Welshman, he might also be responsible for deaths beyond counting. And he likes a good whiskey.
How about your least favourite character? What makes them less appealing to you?
Ha! That's like asking a parent which is his least favourite kid! Generally if a character I'm writing doesn't click with me, I work on it so that they do. I couldn't write a character that didn't appeal to me (although of course, that's not to say they all have to be 'good').
What's the one question you wish you would get asked but never do?
"Tim, would you like a million dollar publishing deal to write anything you want to write?" by A. N. Publisher.
Many, many thanks for popping over for a chat Tim, it’s always great to catch up with you. Do you have any final words for the readers?
Do. Or do not. There is no try.
Also, if you ever see me at conventions, mine is a real ale.
Also, I hope you enjoy these cheeky little ebooks I'm releasing! If there's one in particular you'd like to see, let me know and I'll see what I can do.
To keep up to date with Tim's work head on over to his website TIM LEBBON.NET