ANDREW GARVEY interviews prolific author Tim Lebbon about his post-apocalyptic novel The Silence, its upcoming film adaptation, novelisations and triathlons
ANDREW: I want to start with your 2015 book, The Silence. With so much post-apocalyptic horror out there, you came up with something original. Where did the idea for the creatures in the book come from?
TIM LEBBON: I think it was one of those moments of inspiration that hit all too infrequently––”What about creatures that hunt purely by sound?” The idea built from there, the title came along, and I liked the concept of a novel starting with lots of noise and chaos and slowly growing quieter. Sort of the opposite of a blockbuster movie. And ironically the movie of The Silence begins shooting in September!
Your main character in the Silence is a deaf teenage girl. Did you decide to use a deaf character because of the basic concept of the novel, or did the novel come from you wanting to use a deaf character.
It came from the novel concept, and a desire to challenge myself. Writing from the point of view of a deaf character is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done writing-wise, and I hope I pulled it off OK. Actually someone at my publisher who worked on the book was deaf for the first few years of her life, and she says it worked well. I was helped with the teenaged girl POV because my daughter was that age while I was writing the book. And my son was her brother’s age, so some of the family dynamic was quite familiar to me.
She’s a very believable deaf teenager too. How much research went into that aspect of her character?
Quite a bit of research about deafness. I wanted her to have speech, so she’s a character who suffered deafness when she was (from memory) 8 or 9. For that I had to research causes of deafness, as well as sign language (fascinating reading), lip reading, and the idea that the family of a deaf person often develops their own version of sign language.
The Silence is being adapted as a film isn’t it? How did that come about and are you involved in the production of it, the writing?
I have a great agent in LA. He approached the right people, and it’s all come together with a fantastic creative team––producer Alexandra Milchan (The Wolf of Wall Street, and the forthcoming adaptation of Dan Simmon’s The Terror), director John Leonetti (Annabelle, Wish Upon), and the Van Dyke brothers writing (Chernobyl Diaries). The script is fantastic, and although I didn’t help in the writing, the team have been very inclusive with discussions about certain aspects. I feel very fortunate that such a good group has been drawn together to make this movie, and with quality actors like Stanley Tucci and Kiernan Shipka on board, the project is doubly blessed. It’s very exciting.
Speaking of films, aside from your original fiction, you’ve worked on several novelisations and franchises – like 30 Days of Night, Alien/s, Star Wars and most recently, Kong: Skull Island. How did all that come about and how do you go about working on a novelisation?
Tie-in work is something you’re offered more of the more you do, if you can hit a deadline and deliver a good product. The first one I wrote was an original Hellboy novel, from that came the 30 Days of Night novelisation (same editor), and then the others came in slowly but surely. I enjoy working on tie-ins, they challenge me as a writer and they also end up being read by readers who wouldn’t otherwise have heard of me. And some of these readers then move on to my own original novels. I prefer writing my own work, but sometimes a novelisation or tie-in is a refreshing change. And with the Alien novels especially, it’s a bucket list thing being able to write one of those … especially as my first was a Ripley novel! Also thinking purely commercially, the money doesn’t hurt sometimes, too. I write to make a living after all.
How much creative freedom do you have when adapting/novelising a film or writing for an expanded universe?
It’s different with different projects. From my experiences with novelisations, it’s usually OK to add stuff but not take it away. With EU projects, it depends which project it is. I’ve been very lucky (Star Wars, Alien, Hellboy etc) in that restrictions have been very light, and the editors/franchise owners have trusted me to come up with something that fits and works well. The Star Wars novel took a while to get the proposal and outline pinned down, but then I wrote it without interruption, and the edit was very light. Great fun.
Is there a franchise you particularly enjoy working on?
The Alien novels were a huge amount of fanboy fun for me. But I think I’ve been there and done it now, so I doubt I’ll do any more.
OK, going back much further, what inspired you to write in the first place?
Wow, that’s going back a long way! I’ve been writing since I was 8 or 9. I’ve always loved books, a love instilled in me by my dear Mum, and from a very young age I loved telling stories. I can’t pin down the inspiration. When asked this question I usually respond with a saying my grandmother used: “It’s the way my Mum put my hat on”. I’ve written almost as long as I can remember, and from my late twenties I started to realise it was potentially something I could do for a living. It took a bit of time to get there, but I’ve now been writing for a full-time living for almost eleven years. I’ve made a job of my hobby, and although there are stresses involved (no paycheque at the end of the month!) I love it.
Based on the sheer amount of work you’ve had published (41 novels), is it fair to guess that you’re very disciplined and structured about your writing?
I think working in an office for a long time conditioned me to getting use to sitting at a desk and working. Although the more time goes on, and the older my kids grow, the less I treat writing strictly as 9-5 like I used to. I am quite disciplined and I always aim to hit deadlines (that doesn’t always happen!), but I think it’s more true to say that I’m a fast writer when the need arises. So while some days I’ll only write for 2 or 3 hours, in that time I’ll get down maybe 1500 words. I agonise over this sometimes, worrying about wasted time, but I’m not the type who can sit behind a desk for 8 hours churning out words. So all that procrastination––rearranging my bookshelf, endless cups of tea and coffee, working out, lunch with friends, bike rides, a run through the local woods, watching the news––is all part of the process.
Your latest original novel Relics is currently sitting on my Kindle staring accusingly at me. I’ll be reading and reviewing it in the next few months but what are you working on right now, is there anything you’d like to plug?
I’m currently writing the sequel to Relics (it’s going to be a trilogy) tentatively titled The Folded Land. I’m also making notes and writing proposals for a couple of future novels, one a thriller, the other an historical fantasy (loads of research but also loads of fun). There are a couple of TV things ticking over, and I’d love to plunge into a new screenplay sometime soon. Once this new novel is done and delivered I should have some more time… ah, that eternal challenge of always wanting to work on the next idea, not the current one.
When you’re not writing, you seem to do a lot of running, cycling and other frighteningly active things. Can you tell me about your charity challenge for this year?
It was 2011 when I realised that I was overweight and unfit. The short version is, I did something about it, found a sport I love (triathlon) and I haven’t looked back. I’ve dropped three stones and now I do something active 6 days per week, whether that’s swimming, biking, running, or hiking. I enjoy racing as well, and as the challenges I entered became a bit more extreme (Ironman triathlons, etc) I started raising money for charity. This year I’m raising money for DKMS (Delete Blood Cancer) in memory of a dear family friend who died last year. Instead of one challenge I’m doing 12 of them, one each month, including half-ironman triathlons, marathons, long bike rides, and a few yet to be decided upon! My main race this year is the Brutal Half (the name is apt … it includes a half marathon up and down Snowdon). I’m aiming to raise £2,000 throughout the year, so if you want to urge me on, here’s the link: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Tim-Lebbon2