Interview: Tim Lebbon

Tim Lebbon
Tim Lebbon

TIM LEBBON is a New York Times-bestselling writer from South Wales. He’s had over forty novels published to date, as well as hundreds of novellas and short stories. Recent novels include Relics, The Family ManThe Silence and the Rage War trilogy of Alien/Predator novels. He has won four British Fantasy Awards, a Bram Stoker Award, and a Scribe Award, and has been a finalist for World Fantasy, International Horror Guild, and Shirley Jackson Awards.

The movie of his story Pay the Ghost, starring Nicolas Cage, was released Hallowe’en 2015, and The Silence is shooting September 2017. Several other stories and screenplays are in development in the US and UK.

Find out more about Tim at his website

TheNovelBlog: According to your website, you took the plunge into full-time writing in 2006. It’s now 2017, and you’re still hard at it. What has the journey been like from them to now? Were there ever any times where you seriously questioned what your decision? Does any one incident stick out in particular?

Tim Lebbon: I’ve never questioned or regretted that decision for an instant, but that doesn’t mean it’s always been plain sailing. Writing is what I wanted to do from a young age, and I worked all through my 20s towards that aim. I went part-time in my early 30s, then full-time when I was 37. I love being a writer and wanting to make a living doing it was simply so that I could write all the time. I now can’t imagine doing anything else. In fact, I’m probably unemployable!

It was a big shock at the end of the first month when I didn’t have a pay cheque. But generally it’s been OK, and part of that is down to me being quite prolific. I’ve always been a fast writer, and in the 10 years I’ve been full-time I’ve probably written 20 novels (some in collaboration), as well as screenplays, short stories, and novellas. Some of those novels are tie-ins––novelisations or original novels in established universes––and theses are always too tight deadlines. So I work hard at what I do to make it work.

As for any moment sticking out … there have been lots of great moments, but organizing a UK premiere for Pay The Ghost (the movie of my short story starring Nicolas Cage) for family and friends is one of the best.

TNB: You’ve had many of your novellas and novels optioned for film/tv. I see that The Silence is moving ahead with John Leonetti is the director and Kiernan Shipka, and Stanley Tucci set to star. How exciting is that? Do you see a tentative date shortly? What has been the most exciting part of the process? The worst?

TL: The Silence has been a great process from the very beginning.  I believe it’s due to start shooting in September.  It’s a great creative team attached, and it’s all very exciting.  No idea about a release date as yet, but I’m hoping to know more in the near future.  After Pay The Ghost, having a second movie made is so thrilling.  I’m hoping to visit set or location, which will be an experience of a lifetime.

TNB: If you could write a letter and send it to your nine-year-old self when you wrote your first thrilling train hijack story, what would you say? Would you encourage yourself to start writing more sooner, or, now that you’ve had a solid taste of the publishing industry–both good and bad I’m sure–would you tell yourself to find another career?

TL: I’d just say ‘carry on what you’re doing, and you’ll get there.’  I was always passionate and determined about writing.  Sometimes the perception is you have a book published, and that’s it, you’re a writer, when do you give up work to write for a living?  But my first published novel earned me about £200, and it was years of hard graft and better deals before I could even think about making a living doing it.  And I think that’s no bad thing.  Working through that––working my way up towards being able to make a living from it––helped me learn more about writing and the business behind it, and also never to take anything for granted. There are those who get a good first deal and never look back, but there aren’t many of them.  When you see a term like “bestselling debut novel,” what you don’t see is the years of hard work behind it.  Personally, I’m aiming to become an overnight success by the time I’m 50.

TNB: Okay, so what’s the deal with Black Heart, your first horror story? What’s it about? Why is it still “hidden away” and can I read it?

TL: Ha!  I don’t think I even have it anymore.  It was about a racist getting his comeuppance.  I sent it into a writing competition and, though I didn’t get anywhere, it had some nice feedback.  It would be interesting to read it now.

TNB: So here’s one that’s always a crowd pleaser, which, of all your writings–novella, novels, short stories, etc.–is your favorite? Why? Is there anything in your collections that haven’t been published but you wish would be?

TL: I always hate that question because it’s so difficult to choose.  I am fond of the novels The Silence, The Hunt, Relics, Fallen, and The Map of Moments.  I wrote a novella called The Reach of Children, based on the death of my mother, and I think it’s the most personal and perhaps best thing I’ve written.  But honestly, choosing a favorite is really tough.  And I’ve written so much that it wouldn’t be fair!

As for unpublished work, I’m lucky enough to have published pretty much everything I’ve written.  There are ideas, proposals, and fragments of work in various files that I really want to finish, sometimes as screenplays, sometimes as novels or shorts.  But having too many ideas and too little time is actually a good place to be.  The opposite wouldn’t be.

TNB: Print or eBook? Why? Do you have more digital sales or traditional print?

TL: I prefer print and don’t own an e-reader, but that’s because I spend several hours each day in front of a screen writing and reading anyway.  I have a house filled with books, something which I suspect will become rarer in the future.  I’ve always loved them.  But even I sometimes now look at my overflowing shelves and wonder, Why am I keeping so many books?  There are volumes in those piles that I haven’t opened or even touched in 20 years.  But it’s a habit I guess, and I think books are part of the furniture.  If I walk into a house where there are no books, it feels … cold!

Most of my sales are still in print.  Saying that I’m starting Dreaming in Fire Press, republishing some of my backlist novels as e-books.  The first book––my first dark fantasy novel from 2006, Dusk––is out now on Kindle.

TNB: I LOVED your short story Pay the Ghost. How was it seeing it made into a film starring Nicolas Cage? I really enjoyed it, and really liked the ending and how they expanded upon its morbid history. How involved were you in the making of the film? Did you get to meet Nic Cage? If so, what was he like?

TL: Yes, it was great seeing that done, and I was pretty pleased with how it turned out.  It was a bit surreal when it was all happening.  I know many, many writers, and though some of them have had work adapted, it still felt strange seeing one of my stories made into a movie with such a big star attached.

As for how involved I was … not at all.  I didn’t hear from the producers (other than the guy who first optioned it years ago) or film makers, didn’t visit set, didn’t get to meet Nic Cage.  The Silence has been, and will hopefully continue to be a very different experience.

TNB: You recently had the opportunity to write the novelization for Kong: Skull Island. What was that like? Can you explain the process a little bit? You’ve actually written a bunch of film novelizations, is it safe to assume this is something you like to do? How does one get the opportunity to do so?

TL: Yes I enjoy novelizations and tie in novels.  It’s a slightly different experience from working on your own stories, the readerships are often reading my work for the first time, and I get to play in universes I’ve been a fan of for some time (Alien, Star Wars, etc.).  And from a purely commercial point of view––and I have to think commercially as a working writer––they sometimes pay reasonably well.

My first tie-in was an original Hellboy novel, and a couple more followed on.  The more you do, the more you get asked to do.  The process is often different for each one, but novelizations (I’ve done three now) are always pretty similar.  They can be troublesome if a revised script lands when you’re already working on the novel, but that’s just the nature of this type of work.

Original novels set in established universes can be great fun.  With the Star Wars novel I wrote (Dawn of the Jedi: Into the Void) I had pretty much free reign on story and characters, so long as it fits into the universe and timelines of a series of comics being published at the time.  So that’s my story, my characters, and it turned into something of a dark fantasy novel set in space.  It’s definitely my novel first and foremost, and I had a huge amount of fun writing it.  If Disney hadn’t bought the whole lot, I might have had a chance of turning it into a trilogy!

TNB: Relics was released back in March of this year. A terrific premise of a black market of mythical items. How’s that been going?

TL: Reaction’s been pretty good, not sure how sales are.  I should hear soon.  I enjoyed writing it, although I finished it three years ago now, so it’s good to see it out there at last.  I’ve just delivered book 2.

TNB: Finally, what’s next for you, Tim? Is there anything top-secret you can whisper to us? Is there anything you’d like your readers to know?

TL: If it’s top secret I can’t whisper it!  I am doing another tie-in novel which I’m not sure I can talk about yet…

I’ve just finished the second Relics novel, and there’s one more to come after that.  Next year HarperVoyager will be releasing Blood of the Four, a big epic fantasy novel I’ve written with Christopher Golden.  There are a couple of projects currently out with publishers, so I’m hoping for more news on those soon.  And hopefully, when The Silence happens that will present some fresh opportunities.  All is well. would like to thank Tim for his time and being an all-around great guy.

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