by Sandy Auden
Tim Lebbon explains how writing can disturb your sleep as well as your wife, and
Stephen James Walker's End of Ten delves deep into the real-life story
behind the scenes as David Tennant bows out of Doctor Who.
Tim Lebbon is a consummate short story writer and his latest short story collection, Last Exit For The Lost, showcases his talents to perfection -- from the well-crafted opening lines to his often poignant conclusions, he creates engaging characters and deeply emotional situations using vivid language.
Last Exit For The Lost features stories written between 2000 and 2006 and they cover all of Lebbon's favourite themes -- the harshness of loss, the many aspects of love, the role of Nature and the environment, the influence of children and the impact of age -- and all of them dark and disturbing at some level. There's horror here certainly, but there's also fantasy, some Jules Verne-style stories and Poe stories, and even the odd hint of Cthulhu can be found decaying on a beach.
To write such consistently good stories requires a suitably sound idea at the heart of each tale and a good number of ideas to start with so we asked the author all about it...
How often to you get short story ideas?
I get fragments of ideas all the time -- 'what if' moments, snatches of conversations, images, and sometimes ideas for titles. Just not as often as I used to or rather, they tend to form a little differently now. Whereas when I started writing I'd often think of a cool twist ending, now I tend to dwell on themes or feelings I want to explore, and then try and match them up with scene ideas or characters that have been swirling around in my head.
And where are you when your short story ideas appear? Any patterns?
No patterns at all. Other than often having ideas when I've gone to bed, so I have to get up and put the light on to scribble them down. My wife is always delighted at that.
How do you tell a short story idea from a novel idea?
I seem to be pretty good at judging which idea suits what length. They just seem to come out right. And then of course, short story ideas are often feelings or reactions rather than plots or tales with great scope.
Once you have an idea, you exploit it skillfully through your characters. Why is the characterisation so important to your stories?
Stories are either about people, or the people tell the stories (and frequently both, of course). Either way, if your characters don't come across as believable, or if they don't experience some sort of change, the story is static and two-dimensional. It's never about the monsters, but always about the characters' reactions to the monsters.
Are they mostly horror/dark fantasy ideas?
I am a bit grim. Some element of the fantastic seems to creep into everything I do. I don't force it, that's just the way my parents put my hat on. There's too much reality in the world -- by the time I sit down to write, I want to make stuff up.
Does your writing process change for short stories and novellas compared to novels?
Other than the obvious differences, not really. If I'm in the saddle and working well, I'll write several thousand words each day. That's a short story in two days, or a novella in a week, or a novel in maybe ten weeks (all first draft, of course). I once wrote a novella in three days (From Bad Flesh), but have never experienced that level of intensity since. If I hit four thousand words per day, I'm a very happy platypus. Then the rewriting begins, and that's a whole new kind of intensity.
Did you write all these stories at home or in the same room?
I'm quite static... most of what I write happens in my study at home. I make notes when I'm out and about, and now that I'm doing screenplays I've developed a habit of printing and editing pages at the local coffee shop (cappuccino and cake... bonus!). But having a family -- and therefore a fairly defined routine -- means that I tend to sit at my desk most of the time.
Actually I quite like the idea of freeing myself up space-wise, and only today I was considering buying a decent laptop so that I can write anywhere in the house, or beyond. I find that a change of scenery can do wonders.
Do you experiment with any new writing techniques in your short stories?
Sure, I always want to try something new. I experimented with some second person present tense writing in my novella The Thief of Broken Toys, and I think that worked much better than I'd expected or could have hoped. I treat every piece of writing as some sort of experiment -- I never find writing easy, and every time I set fingers to keyboard I'm aware than I'm creating something new.
Were any of the stories unusually difficult to birth or do they all slide out fully formed?
Very few pop out fully formed. Some short stories I write in one sitting, others I peck and chip at over days, weeks or months. As I said above, I don't find writing an easy process. But then something that was easy could never be so much fun.
Do any stories in Last Exit For The Lost stand out specifically for you?
There are stories in there that I like more than others, for various reasons. "In Perpetuity" is a very personal tale written after I'd become a father for the first time, and I realised that the world I'd live in for thirty years actually had a lot more sharp edges than I'd previously thought. "The Cutting," while certainly not the best story in the book, is very personal to me as it's a true story. "The Evolutionary" touches on my own concerns and interests about life, its value, its mechanics -- what the hell it actually is -- and came to be after I saw a bird fly into my office window and die, its head crushed. I wondered, why can't I just open it up and fix it? Every story has some facet that I love, otherwise I'd have never written them.
What does this short story collection mean to you personally?
The end of a long wait to see it published! Also, it's my first short fiction collection since 2000's As the Sun Goes Down (White and Other Tales of Ruin was exclusively novellas), and so it's something of a reflection on six years of writing for me, from 2000 to 2006. I think it's a strong collection and represents a good cross section of what I write about -- there's quiet horror in there, both supernatural and psychological; there's some more shocking horror; and there are fantasy tales. More than anything, I think the stories have heart and soul. I'm very proud of it.
Have you been writing enough short stories to do another short story collection for 2006 to 2012?
Funny you should ask... PS Publishing will be releasing a new collection of mine late in 2011/early 2012. It'll include the hard-to-find novella The Reach of Children, as well as some new fiction.
Right now, I'm writing a script for 20th Century Fox with my collaborator Chris Golden, based on our forthcoming book The Secret Journeys of Jack London. Fox 2000 optioned the series (it's a trilogy) a few weeks back, and we're having a blast with the screenplay. I'm making notes for a new fantasy novel for Orbit, and also jotting down ideas for a script I want to write this autumn. It's been a really exciting year so far, and there are lots of interesting projects around the corner, including more collaborations I can't talk about yet... I love collaborating...
Last Exit For The Lost is out now from US publishers Cemetery Dance.
Stephen James Walker -- Behind The Scenes of Doctor Who
"End of Ten covers everything of significance that happened in the Doctor Who world from the build-up to the 2008 Christmas special, The Next Doctor, to the aftermath of the 2010 New Year's Day special, The End of Time: Part Two," says Walker. "So, although 2009 is the date stated on the cover, it actually stretches from the last few months of 2008 to the first few months of 2010. It basically rounds off Telos's coverage of David Tennant's era as the Doctor, focusing primarily on his last five TV specials in the role, during a year when -- for the first time since 2005 -- there was no full new series.
"Every year since Doctor Who returned to TV in 2005, Telos has published a book about the latest series. A prominent American fan, Shaun Lyon, wrote the first two, but then he decided he'd had enough, and I offered to take up the reins. Fortunately David Howe, my business partner in Telos, agreed, and so this has become, effectively, a regular annual commission for me.
"I don't take it for granted, though, and wouldn't continue if the books weren't well received. Fortunately, the reaction from readers and reviewers has been pretty positive so far. I approached the latest book, End of Ten, with the same enthusiasm and enjoyment as I always have for these projects.
"These books are not really about presenting an insider's behind-the-scenes account -- that angle is exhaustively covered elsewhere, most notably in the official Doctor Who Magazine. What we're trying to do is something different; to allow readers to recapture the experience of being an avid Doctor Who viewer during this period -- documenting all the major Doctor Who news stories, events and other developments as they unfolded, including brief quotes from the most memorable press articles and reviews, discussing and analysing the episodes in depth, looking at aspects such as the show's ratings, and the original novels, comic strips and so on.
"One of the advantages of doing unofficial books is that I can comment on things impartially, giving my honest views, without feeling that I have to be careful to avoid upsetting anyone involved! Not that I set out to be in any way contentious or controversial, mind you.
"I always enjoy writing the analyses of the episodes most. I use the term 'analyses' rather than 'reviews' because, although I do inevitably express my opinions on the episodes in the same way a reviewer would, I also try to take a slightly more objective look at things -- identifying sources of inspiration that the episodes' writers have drawn on, for instance, or pointing out parallels with past Doctor Who stories.
"I hesitate to say that I take an 'academic' approach, because that might lead some people to think these sections of the book are a bit dry and inaccessible, which I certainly hope is not the case. But I do try to apply a bit of informed insight to the subject matter!
"All the contents -- not just the reviews -- required a lot of research, checking and careful thought. I'm something of a perfectionist, so I always put a great deal of effort into my writing. But at least I was able to stagger the writing of the book over an eighteen-month period, rather than having to do the whole thing in a relatively short space of time at the end. I was also able to make notes about Doctor Who news stories as they actually broke, rather than having to research them all in retrospect.
"A lot of the book's contents come from my own observations of what was going on in the Doctor Who world at the time, and my own original thought and research. For those sections documenting things like news stories relating to the show, I gleaned information from a wide variety of sources, including the news media, magazines and -- inevitably -- the internet. And, of course, the five TV specials themselves were a primary source of information for the book! I am also fortunate to have some quite well-connected friends and contacts.
"I felt so relieved when it was complete. And also pleased with what I'd done on the book, which I think achieves everything I set out to do.
"Next, Telos has got a lot of exciting books lined up for publication over the next couple of years, and I'll be hard at work with David Howe on editing those and getting them ready for print, and of course continuing to keep the business running. Sadly, a lot of other small presses in the UK have gone broke over the last couple of years, due in part to the very difficult economic climate, and I'll be staying very vigilant to ensure that fate doesn't befall Telos.
"As for my own writing, I'm going to be doing the next in Telos's range of new series Doctor Who books, looking at Matt Smith's first series. I'm not sure I want to continue with them indefinitely, though, because they are very hard work, particularly when I've got so many other commitments to fit them around, and I don't want to get to the stage where I start to feel jaded and they just become a chore.
"Outside of Doctor Who, I would really like to try my hand at writing some crime novels or novellas one day. I also have a long-standing Telos commission to write a guide to Laurel and Hardy, whose films I've always loved, but I can't seem to find time to do that at the moment, while I'm still working on the Doctor Who non-fiction books -- the same old story! Fingers crossed, though, I will get around to it one day."
End of Ten has been released this month by Telos Publishing.
Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic interviewer/reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; and a diligent interviewer/reviewer for Interzone magazine and SF Site. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. For background information, visit www.sandyauden.co.uk.
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