Sunday, 17 May 2009


As a young lad, Tim has always wanted to be a write and when at the age of 9 he finished his first story he knew then that it was going to be his ideal career. After a few teenage years of starting and stopping numerous tales it wasn't until he was 20 that he finished his first horror story "Black Heart", that according to rumour is getting up the energy to manifest itself from within its hidden draw. Yet publishing was to call (Psychotrope (an independent UK Magazine) with his first published novel in 1997 by Tanjen (Mesmer.)

Now, after thirty books published in the UK and US, we thought that we'd best have a word with him to see what makes him tick, what influences his work and above all how a Brit survives abroad whilst a relatively unknown in his homeland...

Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?

Tim Lebbon: There are people I know who have to write every single day. I'm not one of those writers who goes insane if I can't get to the keyboard for a day or two ... but writing is definitely an important part of my life. If I'm not actually sitting down working, things are always still ticking over in my head. It can sometimes be distracting – I'll be reading, or watching a movie, and suddenly a plot point in one of my latest projects will resolve itself and I'll have to take notes (I'm notoriously forgetful – the amount of times I've woken up and thought, Damn, what was that fantastic, earth-shattering idea I had just when I was falling asleep last night?). So yes, I'm compelled to write because it's a part of who I am, but I certainly don't see it as an affliction, any more than having to breathe or eat.

FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?

TL: I've been writing stories pretty much since I could pick up a pencil, and I was drawing them before I could write. The idea of perhaps becoming a writer for a living hit me in my early twenties, but I've always written. I don't know what it is in me that makes me need to tell stories, and neither do I try to analyse that too much. I was born with my hat on that way, that's all.

FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this POV?

TL: Short stories are a different discipline from novels, or screenplays, or poetry. Being good at one doesn't always mean you'll be proficient at another. Shorts stories are great for honing your language and craft, but they won't teach you the large scale plotting that you need in a novel. There are plenty of novelists who write very few short stories, and also writers who produce many shorts but who don’t often explore novel writing. Everyone's different. I’ve dabbled in both, as well as some screenwriting. I love trying different things.

FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else's and how would you define it?

TL: I'd tell them I have fifteen kids at home that need feeding. I don't, I have two. But they eat for fifteen. I'd tell them, 'FALLEN is a thrilling adventure story set in a fantasy world, with danger, betrayals and staggering revelations'. As for defining my own novel, that’s quite hard – I’d call it a dark fantasy, I guess.

FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?

TL: Please buy my book, I have fifteen kids to feed.

FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?

TL: Iain Banks (in both his incarnations), Ramsey Campbell, Michael Marshall Smith (and all his pseudonyms), John Connolly, Stephen King, and many many more. I don't keep as up to date with new books as I'd like, because there are still so many older books I'm trying to catch up on.

FT: When you sit
down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your idea's develop as you write?

TL: I'll have an outline and vague ideas, but the book and characters definitely come to life while I'm writing. It's an exciting process for me, almost like reading a book ... when I'm writing I'm always keen to know what will happen to the characters, and what will happen at the end. While I'm working, I'll be taking detailed notes of the next few scenes or chapters, so there is some forward planning going on ... but it's always done in a very organic way, as opposed to following a strict synopsis (due to publisher requirements I often sell a novel on the basis of a synopsis, but once I start writing I hardly ever even refer to it again ... er ... but don't tell my publishers that, will you?)

FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?

TL: To relax I read, walk in the countryside with my family, go running & cycling (perhaps not as much as I'd like to), drink good real ale and wine (maybe more than I should), watch movies and TV (current favourite is THE SHIELD, my wife and I are working through the box sets ... stunning). I'm reading Iain M Banks' new Culture novel MATTER right now, a fantastic imagination, though I don't think it's his best (still a few hundred pages to go though). Just read Tom Piccirilli's THE COLD SPOT, and before that Neil Gaiman's THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, both of which were wonderful.

FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?

TL: None. I'm very boring (and besides, that would be telling).

FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)

TL: We've got a dog called Blu, a Weimaraner/Vizsla cross. He's only a year old, but the size of a moose and completely mad. He hasn't yet appeared in any book but he will at some point.

FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?

TL: I'll talk about both new books here, if I may ...
The two main characters in FALLEN were equally interesting to write. Ramus and Nomi are explorers – called Voyagers in the book – who have a very complex relationship: competitors, friends, betrayers, maybe even lovers. When the book came together in my head it was the relationship between these two that brought it alive, not the world or the plot or the landscape. It was a great process charting the history of these two, the destruction of their relationship, and its morphing into something else.
As for THE ISLAND, my favourite character was Kel Boon, the main guy, who's fled his old life as a soldier working for The Core (a secretive outfit hunting and killing intruders from beyond the land of Noreela... while much of Noreela still believes itself alone). But of course, there will be no happy retirement, otherwise it would be a pretty boring book. So Kel is trying to handle all this scary stuff while still trying to maintain this new life he's made for himself, which also includes a new love (the previous love of his life having been killed in an accident he had a large part in). He's a complex character, and what he goes through in the book is pretty dramatic. I like characters who change, and have to experience chan
ge around them, because I love seeing what shape they'll be in on the other side. This is what we writers do ... make characters we like, and then put them through hell.

FT: How similar to your principle protagonist are you?

TL: Not at all. I'm painfully boring. No one would want to read about me.

FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?

TL: Reading ... er .... that's about it. I exercise, when deadlines aren't tying me to the desk. Do a lot with my family, especially as we now have the dog – we're out walking a lot, which is fabulous. I love the countryside and
nature, and I think that shines through in a lot of my work. I also like real ale. It's lovely. Bring me more.

FT: Where do you get your idea's from?

TL: No idea.

FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?

TL: There are days when the words don't come easily, but it's all part of the process (today is one of those days …). I'll do something else for a few hours – interviews, editing, proposals, go for a run – and then get back to it. It's never affected me hugely. I've never had a prolonged period when I couldn't write ... a day at most. And as for having ideas, mine usually suffer a painful birth, but I think they're usually the best ones. It's quite rare that I have a complete 'eureka' moment ... usually I think of a great idea, then struggle to figure out how the hell it fits into a story. This is as close to a 'block' as I get, I suppose.

FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many woudl call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?

TL: Because we've got two young kids, my writing runs pretty much as a standard job – my wife and kids
leave for work and school, I write all day, then they come home & we have dinner and do family stuff. I often work in the evenings, but that's usually promotional stuff, emailing, and chatting with agents or writers I'm collaborating with (currently four and counting, on novels, screenplays and a TV series ... I love collaborating). I'd work 15 hours per day if I could, but it's nice to have the cut-off point there.

FT: sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?

TL: I don't have specific soundtracks. Writing both FALLEN and THE ISLAND I listened to a lot of classical music because of the lack of lyrics. Other times I'll listen to music and work well enough, though it's always by bands that I know very well – I can't listen to a new band while I'm writing. Music is a big part of my life. It makes the world go round. That, and real ale.

FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publsihing field when you were first getting started?

TL: Not sure I had many misconceptions, though of course I'm still learning as I go along. I suppose if anything it was the thought that if I did ‘make it’, I'd get published in the UK because I'm a British writer. It turned out that I spent six or seven years published successfully in the mass market in the USA before I got my first deal here with the staggeringly wonderful Allison & Busby. I think that's pretty unusual.

FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?

TL: Writing is the great escape. Reading is as well, to an extent, but when I write I not only visit whole new worlds, I create them.

FT: What can you tell us about the next novels?

TL: THE ISLAND is out in JUNE in the UK (hardback from Allison & Busby) and USA (trade paperback from Bantam). It's a standalone novel set in my fantasy world of Noreela, dealing with the threat of invasion from beyond, and the main character's dilemma when he's faced with trying to disrupt the potential invasion.
FALLEN is out in paperback in the USA (Bantam) and the UK (Allison & Busby). It's another standalone novel set in Noreela, the story of two competing explorers both seeking the last great discovery to be made in Noreela's fou
nding times. But there's something waiting for them there.
I'm thrilled that both of these novels received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, and I think they're two of the best novels I've written. Seeing them on the shelves in the UK is fabulous.

FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?

TL:, BBC News, Shocklines, Last Exit to Nowhere, Allison & Busby

FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.

TL: Nope, it never occurred to me, though I think there is some value in writing classes (and in fact I’ve
taught a few myself).

FT: How did you get
past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?

TL: Not past them yet – I still get rejected, and with the amount of books I write and publishers I work with, there are still bad reviews. I'm glad to say that the good ones usually outweigh them. It's not a case of getting past these things, really – it's just dealing with them. A friend of mine always says there's no such thing as a bad review, and there's a lot to be said for that. My first fantasy novel DUSK seemed to polarise opinion – some said I'd reinvigorated the genre, others said it was cliched and contrived. It sold really well, won a British Fantasy Award, and is still in print and selling now.

FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?

TL: Worst – occasional money worries.
Best – everything else. How long have you got ...? It's the best job in the world, no doubt. I make up stuff and people want to read it, and it still shocks me to the core when I really think about that. So I don't. Another day, another chapter, and though I still find writing very hard work – always have, and probably always will - I consider myself very lucky indeed. Seeing gorgeous looking books like FALLEN and THE ISLAND on the shelves in bookshops, and remembering everything that went into writing them, is extremely satisfying.


Anonymous said...

Good interview. Best of luck, Tim! With both Island and Blue!

ediFanoB said...

I read the interview with interest.
Thank you

D. B. Reynolds said...

Great interview! Great idea!

And beautiful covers!!!