Risingshadow has had the honour of interviewing Tim Major.
Tim's time-travel thriller novel, You Don't Belong Here (Snowbooks) is available now. He has also released two novellas, Blighters (Abaddon) and Carus & Mitch (Omnium Gatherum) - the latter was shortlisted for a This Is Horror Award. His short stories have featured in Interzone, the British Fantasy Society’s Horizons and numerous anthologies. He is the Editor of the UK SF magazine, The Singularity.
Click here to visit his official website.
AN INTERVIEW WITH TIM MAJOR
Could you tell us something about yourself in your own words?
I’m a writer. It feels nice to be able say that upfront, as it’s only been quite recently that I’ve had the confidence to describe writing as what I do, as opposed to what I wish I could do. I write SF and horror, generally with a very British sensibility – that is, involving lots of hesitant characters who don’t say what they mean. I began writing stories and then a couple of dreadful practice novels in 2012, and my first short story was published in 2013. It’s been fairly steady since then, with lots of stories, two novellas and a novel published to date, and I think I’m getting better, too.
What inspired you to become an author?
A friend of mine completed NaNoWriMo (a challenge to write a 50,000-word draft of a novel in a single calendar month) and I felt terribly jealous. She had no expectations of publication, and I realised that I wouldn’t have, either. So my aim became to write a complete novel, rather than to write a good one. Lowering the bar like that was immensely helpful.
Have you always been interested in speculative fiction?
Yes. I almost missed out on watching Doctor Who (I started watching when I was 8, just before the programme was axed and then was on hiatus for many years) but it struck a chord immediately. From there I moved on to read HG Wells, George Orwell and, in particular, John Wyndham. Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids and The Midwich Cuckoos are my templates for perfect British SF.
Have any authors, stories or novels been a source of inspiration to you when you've written your own stories?
Certainly John Wyndham. And I’m a fan of Victorian weird fiction and proto-SF. I love Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles for focusing on nostalgia in an SF setting. Shirley Jackson’s stories are incredible, and Carus & Mitch was explicitly a homage to We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Looking outside of genre fiction, John Updike’s sequence of Rabbit Angstrom novels contain some of the best and most detailed examinations of characters I’ve come across. As a reader I tend to be won over by small details rather than ambitious plots.
You've recently written two novellas, Carus & Mitch (Omnium Gatherum, 2015) and Blighters (Abaddon Books, 2016), and a novel, You Don't Belong Here (Snowbooks, 2016). Did it feel different to write a longer story after writing novellas?
The novel was actually written between the two novellas – one advantage of long publication lead times for novels is that they give plenty of time to write more fiction while you’re waiting! Carus & Mitch is about two young girls living entirely alone in a remote house, afraid of what may be outside. It was adapted from the first three chapters of one of my early failed novels, though it changed a lot in the process – from YA to adult, and from adventure to psychological horror. Blighters, which is about an ‘invasion’ of alien slugs that inspire utter contentment in anybody nearby, was the simplest of the three to write – it’s a first-person POV and I loved writing for the main character, Becky Stone – the internal monologue just seemed to flow. You Don’t Belong Here went through eight fairly substantial revisions. It’ll be years before I can bring myself to look at it again. The final novel turned out well, I think, but the long process taught me to plot out my books in greater detail before I start to write.
You Don't Belong Here is an intriguing and fresh novel about Daniel Faint who steals a time machine. How did you come up with the story for this novel?
Firstly: thank you. Secondly: hmm. The novel is billed as SF horror, but as much as anything, it’s a mystery novel – it’s difficult to answer the question directly because the nature of the mystery was the real starting point. I seem to remember that it was an offhand comment in the BBC radio show, The Infinite Monkey Cage, that started me thinking... I was interested in the idea of an amateur time traveller making short hops forward in time, and the confusion that might result – the disorientation and paranoia. My eldest son was only three months old when I started writing the novel. It occurs to me now that what I was really writing about was the madness of being deprived of sleep.
Daniel Faint is an interesting character, because he has a complicated life. Was it challenging to write about him and his problems?
Complicated is an understatement! He’s obsessed with repairing the awful mistakes of his past but, like the rest of us, he can only move forward in time. His trouble is that he makes things far worse by using a stolen time machine to zip ahead in time even faster. His grip on reality is shaky to begin with, and soon gets worse. Oh, and then there’s a murder, and he has no idea whether he’s responsible. I enjoyed writing Daniel, though. While he appears polite to others, inside he’s repulsive. One big inspiration were the characters in the TV sitcom, Peep Show, whose internal monologues reveal that they’re all secretly seething inside.
Did you have to do any research before or during the writing process?
Barely any. Maybe that makes me a fraud? At some early stage I had the revelation that a main character who didn’t understand the time machine (because he had stolen it) would allow me to avoid explaining how it worked. It’s a trick I’ll use again, because I’m an SF fan without much patience for lengthy scientific explanations, whether I’m reading or writing. Don’t get me wrong, though – I’m a maths graduate and a nerd. I made a spreadsheet to work out the precise time-travel calculations. There was a graph and everything.
What will you write next?
I’m almost finished a second draft of a novel, and I’m hoping the third draft will be the final one. It’s an SF thriller about a group of people who spontaneously produce clones. It’s a bigger book than anything I’ve written before, with lots of characters and a broad scope, whereas I normally write about very confined situations. It’s fun to mix things up.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
Yikes. That I’m grateful? I’m grateful that I’m still writing, and that it’s turned out to be something I can do fairly convincingly. I went freelance last year – I’m an editor of fiction and educational materials – and I’m grateful that I can be more flexible with work and writing. I have two books already lined up for publication over the next couple of years – one fiction and one non-fiction – and I’m hoping to add more. I’m grateful to be asked to do interviews like this one. Thank you very much.
Tim Major blogs at Cosy Catastrophes.