Monday, July 25, 2016

Tim Lees, Author of The God Hunter

Welcome back, Tim Lees, author of The God Hunter and Devil in the Wires (Harper Voyager) to It's All About Story. Tim's blog can be found here:

1) Describe your latest book.

It's called Steal the Lightning. It's the third in the Field Ops series (following the two mentioned above), and it's a sort of road trip around the US, looking at some of the consequences of having a bunch of "gods" (for want of a better term) on the loose. The previous books jumped about a bit, globally, but this takes place in a much shorter time-frame and a much smaller area. Like the other books, it's self-contained; they follow an overall development, but I try to make sure new readers can pick up any one of the series and still enjoy it.

2) What do you like about speculative fiction as a genre?

You can tackle big issues in a light, even frivolous way. I tend to mix up genres--thriller, SF, comedy, fantasy--and the Field Ops novels touch on some serious matters, including religion and politics, but do so playfully, I hope. It's not like writing an essay. You don't have to produce the final word. You can even have a situation that goes against your general beliefs, though I don't know that I've actually done that. I like messing around with big concepts, and sometimes just being surreal and silly--and wondering how relatively ordinary people would react if such things actually happened. Plus, I suppose, like anyone in this field, I'm temperamentally attracted to the weird and bizarre. Always was, even as a kid.

3) Name three of your favorite writers.

J.G. Ballard, Brian Aldiss, Alan Moore.

4) What books do you feel have influenced you as a writer?

Everything I've ever read. But the period when I really learned to write was when I lived in Scotland, and there were a few authors who influenced me strongly then. One was William Burroughs--not the cut-ups, but the little short stories in between, especially in Soft Machine and The Wild Boys. I still think "The Mayan Caper" is a great time travel piece, so unconventional. I should go back and re-read those books. I liked Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, his bitchy account of '20s Paris, and Angela Carter's short stories in Fireworks (overshadowed by her later work, but to my mind much more interesting), and Christopher Isherwood, who taught me how to use autobiographical material in an "English" way, as opposed to the "American" style of Jack Kerouac. Isherwood was a perfect antidote to the other authors, with his deceptively simple, "transparent" writing. It took me a very long time to recognise the value of simple, straightforward prose.

5) What was the first book in your childhood that you loved?

The Lost World, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was the first book I read on my own. I've been asked this question before and it made me think about the book a little more deeply. On the one hand, it's an adventure story with dinosaurs--who could resist?--but on another level, there's a rather poignant frame-plot to it. The narrator, Edward Malone, joins Professor Challenger's expedition in an attempt to impress the girl he loves, who mocks him for his supposed lack of heroism. He even names the plateau's central lake after her, Lake Gladys. Then he returns to England, and she marries someone else. You can't make people love you, even when they let you think you can.

6) What is your favorite book on writing, the one that helped you the most?

Death is no Obstacle, a long interview with Michael Moorcock by Colin Greenland. In fact, Moorcock is a huge source of inspiration to me and, I think, many British writers of my generation. He's done it all--literary fiction, potboilers, fantasy, historical, contemporary--but always, you imagine, with the rent collector tapping his foot on the other side of the door. (I'm joking--I trust he's made a decent living, but his work is certainly haunted by the need to put food on the table.) He's a professional in the truest sense of the word, even a hack, and has rushed books that might well have benefited from a few more days' consideration. At the same time, he has produced work of astonishing artistic achievement, and even now, in his late seventies, remains a great innovator. He talks articulately about writing, both the tricks which get him through a book and the commercial environment in which such books are written. His approach is very nuts-and-bolts and therefore accessible to anyone. What he doesn't talk about is his talent, the mysterious miracle ingredient which makes it all actually work.

7) When you need inspiration, where do you find it?

Long ago, when I'd produce only a few short stories a year, ideas would come to me while I was out walking, or sometimes as spin-offs from my reading of other authors (a favorite trick was to take a non-genre story and then create a fantasy or SF "version" of it). Nowadays it's not like that. The germ of a story may come, often during a bout of insomnia, or while I'm doing something unrelated to writing, and I'll be hugely enthusiastic about it. But it takes more than that, say, to bring it to novel-length. Structural problems can take a lot of sorting out. Smaller problems often solve themselves in the act of writing itself. There's nothing more inspirational than having a pen in your hand!

8) Do you feel your work is plot-driven or character-driven?

I'm more interested in character than plot. Unless I come up with a really good plot.

Plots are great for a writer, because they tell you where the story's going. Than can be handy for a reader, too. But nobody's going to read a book where the characters don't engage them.

That said, I like characters who are flawed, quirky, and not always admirable. They remind me of my friends.

9) What process do you find most challenging as a published writer? Outlining? Editing? Promoting?

Promoting. It's not that the job is hard--I've really enjoyed appearances at comics conventions and bookstore readings, and it's always a pleasure to be invited to appear on somebody's blog. But does any of it actually sell books? Social media was recently touted as the great marketing tool, and it certainly has provided some enjoyable moments--through Twitter, I've been able to have conversations with a wide range of people, including a number of much-admired authors. I didn't buy their books because they talked to me on Twitter, though--and I doubt they bought my books at all!

A former bookshop manager once told me that, despite all the advertising hype, the only thing that really sells a book is word of mouth. Of course, to get word of mouth, people have to know about your book to start with. You're up against the same problem you'd have marketing any product. There are a huge number of books out there. Why should anyone pay attention to yours? (If there's a good answer to this, please let me know.)

10) What's the most surprising thing you've learned about being published?

That I am not world famous and driving around in a gold-plated Rolls Royce. Yet.

11) Are there any upcoming books, novellas, short stories?

Only if someone publishes them. "If a tree falls in a forest . . ." I have a couple of short stories doing the rounds, and a novel set in the aftermath of World War II which needs finishing, and a hundred other ideas and half-finished manuscripts. Years ago, I taught a creative writing class, and was always astonished when people told me they didn't know what to write about. To me, there's far too much to write about. I'm looking forward to getting my current jobs out of the way so I can work on something new.

Thank you, Tim!
You can find all of Tim's books here:

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