Accomplishment: Tim Lebbon is a New York Times best-selling horror and fantasy author from South Wales. He has had more than twenty novels published to date, as well as dozens of novellas and hundreds of short stories, many in major anthologies on both sides of the Atlantic.
Has a book every made you angry. If so, which one?
I read An Evil Cradling by Brian Keenan, one of the Beirut hostages. It was a beautifully written, shattering, amazing book. And though it was, of course, far from the first account I'd read about inhumanity and mistreatment, it made me angrier than most. That such an intelligent man with so much to give to the world could be used in such away really ignited my fury, and his incarceration, and the way he faced it and its aftermath, was humbling. It's easy to become upset at injustices and selfish crimes, but this one hit me harder than most. Keenan didn't deserve to have years of his life stolen away, at risk of execution at any moment. It wasn't fair. And unfairness always makes me angry, because differences or not, we're all in this together.
Is self publishing the new 'slush-pile’?
I don't think so, because the slush pile still exists. Perhaps self publishing is providing an extension of the slush pile ... a more visible version. There are occasional stories of self-published books becoming popular and suddenly being picked up by a major publisher, but they're probably as rare as a hit novel being found on a traditional slush pile (an editor at a major house once told me that in her whole career she'd only ever twice bought a novel plucked from the slush pile).
Is there any truth in the view that most horror novels are versions of the same old story and does that matter?
What 'same old story' is that? There are lots of themes and ideas that recur again and again, sure, but that's the same for most fiction. Horror is often about the unknown, whether that unknown is death, or what waits in the dark, or the possibilities the future might hold. And as there's so much that humanity doesn't yet know, the playground for a horror writer is vast.
Do you have a favourite technique to generate fear or suspense in a novel?
Fear is really difficult to generate in a novel, but when it works it's invariably down to insinuation and suggestion rather than outright description (much as in movies ... what you don't see is always more scary than what you see). My prime aim is to tell a story, and I think the idea of suspense is essential in any novel. You want the reader to continue turning the pages, after all. Make a reader love your characters, and they'll want to know what happens next––the book will be suspenseful, whether what happens next is your main character succeeding in passing an exam, or meeting a monster from the deepest pits of hell and having their head torn off. There's no secret technique to achieve this. Just tell a good story, and people it with characters that you, and the reader, will care about.
What traps do aspiring horror writers often fall into?
Writing for the gross-out rather than the honest effect (I once sat on a panel where one writer said he welcomes taboos because it gives him something to aim for to shock his readers, and I asked ... hang on a minute, your main aim is purely to shock?). It's east to be gross. Much more effective is to be subtle. Get into the reader's mind. Involve them.
Which leads on to over-writing. Let the reader use their own imagination and they're involved in the story ... put it all on the page for them and they're reading an instruction manual.
It's also easy to go for the trick-story. The first forty or fifty stories I wrote back in my twenties were invariably built around a twist ending. That's not to say none of them worked, because I think they did (though I'd have to dig through old piles of indie horror mags from the nineties to find them). But I now find it much more satisfying to build a story around an idea, theme, a feeling, rather than an ending. Build a story honestly, and the ending will find itself.
Do you think horror should have a moral theme?
If it's a result or a theme of the story, sure. But then that can happen in any good writing. I don't necessarily write to make people think about their morals or beliefs, but very often elements of that can creep in to what I do, even if I'm just setting out to tell a bloody good story. For me that's when a story develops soul, and I think it's something that happens naturally and can rarely be forced.
What weakness are you aware of in your writing and which you consciously seek to overcome as you write?
I'm not very good at plotting. I've never been one to plot a novel in great detail before launching in to it, because I don't want to take away from its fluidity (and I also believe a good story will find its own way). But this often results in me writing myself into a corner. That's not necessarily a bad thing––I quite like doing so, in fact, because writing my way out of a corner can often make for a much more satisfying, realistic resolution (life is rarely simple). But I do now try to think a chapter or two ahead of myself, at least. So I'll start a novel with maybe 6 pages of notes, and then as it progresses there are invariably several more pages of notes about forthcoming chapters.
The novel I'm currently working on is the third in a YA trilogy (the Toxic City trilogy from Pyr in the USA). As a climactic novel in a trilogy it does have a lot of story threads to tie up, so it was the idea project to try to plot in greater detail before I began. I'll let you know how it turns out.
Are you ever afraid that one day you will stop enjoying what it is to write?
I will never, ever tire of telling stories. It could be that my method of telling them changes sometimes––I'm writing more screenplays now, and would love to get into TV. But since I was 5 I've told stories, and that's what makes the world go round for me. As for whether I'll stop enjoying what it is to write ... my relationship with writing has always been a complex one, and I do my best not to analyse it too much. Suffice to say, I'll never stop enjoying being a writer.
I caught Sheri just in time - trying to stroke his goddamned shoulder. "He's a keeper, Clay."
"Like hell, he is,"I snarled. "Okay, punk, you can go - oh - and thanks."
You wanna make this guy happy? Check out his books