A family man who loves the Welsh countryside and creating post-apocalyptic worlds, award-winning fantasy and horror writer Tim Lebbon talks Stephen King, creating characters and his various upcoming projects to Awesome Art.
With his friendly, warm disposition and details of a normal childhood and teenage years, you would never expect this bearded bespeckled man to have destroyed the world several times over in so many of his horror and fantasy novels. Stephen Volk, with whom Tim has written a screenplay, says of Tim that, “He is the exact opposite of what people might assume a horror writer to be like. He’s charming, funny, loyal, sensitive, passionate about the wonders of science, and always fired up about the next big idea.”
Tim became a full-time writer five years ago. When he’s not chained to his desk writing scary stories, he spends his free time with his wife and kids and watching movies (yes, he loves horror movies, although he doesn’t care for Torture Porn) with a glass of wine or a fine ale like the ones detailed in his novel Bar None.
Delving into horror
“I made my first story up when I was four,” Tim remembers. “I didn’t write it down, but it was about the giant black cat that lived at the bottom of my garden. Even at four I was making up stuff like that.” From then on he was constantly writing, and wrote dozens of unfinished novels during his teenage years. “I’ve always loved horror, I think I just gravitated that way,” Tim admits. Was he a weird teenager? Did a love of horror result in a goth phase or rebellion? “Nah, I was pretty normal really,” Tim remembers. “I wasn’t particularly rebellious.”
Instead of rebelling, Tim took to the books. From an early age he devoured books, and then he discovered horror fiction. “My Mum gave me a book when I was ten; The Rats by James Herbert,” he says. “It wasn’t a book for a ten-year-old really,” he smirks. “It’s pretty gruesome!”
It was in his teens that he discovered Stephen King. “For a few years there was just Stephen King and James Herbert,” Tim remembers. “I read their books again and again! It wasn’t until I was about 16 that I realised that there were other horror writers.” Nowadays, Tim writes more than he reads, although he still cites King as an influence, as well as Arthur Macken.
Bringing horror to Wales
Tim was born in London in 1969, but only lived there for 18 months before moving to Wales. He is now settled in the small Welsh town of Goytre with his wife and two children. Christopher Golden, an American writer with whom Tim has collaborated, states, “Tim’s family comes before anything.” Tim refers to Wales as his true home. Like Stephen King, who sets the majority of his novels where he lives, in Maine, Tim believes that Wales is the perfect setting for a horror novel.
“If I’m writing a contemporary novel, as opposed to another-world fantasy novel, I generally set it where I know.” Tim mentions Bar None, a post-apocalyptic novel set in Wales where the characters try to make it to the last bar in the world. “Bar None combines two great loves, which are horror and beer,” laughs Tim. “The research for that one was pretty difficult!” he jokes.
Bar None is not the only post-apocalyptic novel that Tim has written. In fact, it appears to be a favourite subject matter for him, from his first novel Mesmer to new novel Echo City. Tim cites The Road as a favourite novel and is fascinated by envisioning the end of the world. “It’s a pretty grim thing to be fascinated with,” he admits.
Blending horror and fantasy
Although Tim loves writing horror fiction, he has become known for his fantasy novels, particularly the series set in the fantasy world of Norella. The first Norella novel, Dusk, won the August Derleth Award in 2007. But Tim is quick to mention that his fantasy worlds are not your typical heroic fantasies.
“I write in the fantastic genre, I guess,” says Tim. “Some of it’s regarded as horror, some fantasy. But my fantasy books are alternative fantasy books. They’re really grim and dark.” Tim admits that while Dusk was well received, some people hated it because it was full of sex, violence and swearing. Furthermore, unlike most typical fantasy novels, there are no dragons, no orcs, and most unusual of all, no magic.
“A lot of fantasy novels tend to contain a magic system,” Tim states. “And fantasy fans are quite perceptive when they’re reading a novel, to make sure that your magic system works,” Tim states. But Tim went against this traditional fantasy system and created a world, Norella, that is devoid of any magic.
“There used to be magic, but the magic was misused by humanity,” Tim says of Norella. “So it withdrew itself from the world. It’s a story of the end of that world in a slow degeneration, not just a big bang.” Tim’s passion for post-apocalyptic horror is just as evident in his fantasy novels as it is in his horror works.
One of Tim’s favourite characters is Kel Boon from Fallen, a fantasy novel from the Norella series. Kel Boon is a middle-aged man who is past his prime, and strives to discover the next big thing in Norella. He is jealous of his companion Nomi, and eventually they become enemies.
“All my characters are human beings,” Tim states. “But you need to make them human beings. You need to give them problems and history, give them aims and give them a dark side as well.” In Fallen, these two main characters are driven apart as they become competitive enemies, resulting in the climax of the novel. “They were both quite unpleasant people,” says Tim. “The two characters bounce off each other so well. They created a real feel to the book.”
With new books being released (Echo City and The Secret Journeys of Jack London are just two coming out this year), and film deals in the bag (Jack London was picked up by 20th Century Fox last summer before the book was even released), it looks like Tim Lebbon is quickly working his way to the top of UK horror fiction, doing for Wales what Stephen King did for Maine. Watch this space.
Tim’s favourite creations
Written in his mid-20s, Tim’s first novel is well-known for its opening line: “In service stations across the land, the zombies walk.” A line which Tim didn’t actually write. “Everyone kept saying, what a great first line of your first novel! And I said, yeah! I didn’t actually write it. My publisher did,” Tim laughs. His first of many apocalyptic visions.
This novel has been called both a zombie novel and a vampire novel, whereas actually it is just about, as Tim says, “these mad creatures that were invented by the British military and genetically engineered to fight.” The creatures were then buried and, in true horror form, dug up by some unsuspecting victim and brought back to life. Tim says, “It’s an action horror book, with lots of car chases and shoot-ups.”
Echo City (2010 – released in UK July 2011)
Already released in the States and coming to the UK this July, Echo City is cited by Tim as his favourite fantasy novel that he has written. Echo City is a massive city surrounded by a poisonous desert; nothing can get in or out. The city is 50 miles wide, and has layers beneath it, making it like all history built in one big city. “It’s a bit of a mad book,” laughs Tim.
For more info on Tim, his upcoming projects and where to buy his books, check out his website at http://www.timlebbon.net/