Fun with Friends—Helen Lowe Talks with Fellow Authors from Australia and New Zealand: Today’s Guest is Tim Jones
About the Series:
“Fun with Friends” is an SF Signal interview series in which I feature fellow SFF authors from Australia and New Zealand. The format is one interview per month, with no more than five questions per interview, focusing on “who the author is” and “what she/he does” in writing terms.
Today’s guest, Tim Jones, is well established in New Zealand as an author, poet, editor and blogger, but perhaps not so well known beyond its borders – although as his bio and the interview may hint, I suspect that is starting to change amongst the discerning. Either way though, I am pretty sure that followers of speculative fiction will find plenty about Tim and his work that is of interest.
Allow me to introduce Tim Jones:
Tim Jones is a poet and author of both science fiction and literary fiction who was awarded the New Zealand Society of Authors Janet Frame Memorial Award for Literature in 2010. He lives in Wellington, New Zealand. Among his recent books are fantasy novel Anarya’s Secret (RedBrick, 2007), short story collection Transported (Vintage, 2008), and poetry anthology Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand (Interactive Press, 2009), co-edited with Mark Pirie. Voyagers won the “Best Collected Work” category in the 2010 Sir Julius Vogel Awards, and has been selected for the “Books On New Zealand” exhibition at the 2012 Frankfurt Book Fair. Tim’s most recent book is his third poetry collection, Men Briefly Explained, published by Interactive Press (IP) in late 2011. He is currently working on his third short story collection. His story The New Neighbours appears in The Apex Book of World SF 2, edited by Lavie Tidhar (2012).
Helen: Tim, you immigrated to New Zealand at an early age from the UK. How do you consider that experience has influenced your perceptions and approach as a New Zealand author?
Tim: I think it’s had a big effect on my writing – after all, my first collection was titled Boat People and a number of the poems in it dealt with how emigrating affected my mother, my father and me, while my second short story collection, Transported, is all about journeys of one sort or another. Looking back, I am amazed by how many of my short stories feature journeys by or over water! (I was clearly never cut out to write vampire fiction.)
But on a wider level, the experience of being an alien is an excellent grounding for writing about the alien. As a child in rural Southland, whose ears stood out as much as his pronounced Northern English accent, my failed efforts to fit in at school in my new country certainly provided plenty of fodder for alienation. There are a lot of outsiders in my early stories: now, I’m more likely to write about people who might appear to the outside world to be insiders, but are still all too well aware of their difference from those around them.
Helen: Tim, you wear many hats: you’re an editor, have three poetry collections now to your name, as well as two short fiction collections, one (Extreme Weather Events) mainly SF, the second (Transported) comprising both speculative and contemporary realist fiction. You’re also an editor and a blogger on both books and environmental topics—almost a “renaissance man” in fact. How do all the hats fit together for you?
Tim: It’s nice to be called a “renaissance man” – though, if the roof of the Sistine Chapel needs repainting, I would recommend choosing someone else for the job. But there’s another phrase ‑ “jack of all trades, master of none” – that is the ever-present flip side of the same situation.
My advice to writers is not to do as I have done. It’s a much better idea to find a single niche and exploit it to the full. And I certainly wouldn’t recommend mixing speculative and mainstream fiction in one collection – especially if you start on the speculative side of the fence; I think writers who have already become established in mainstream fiction can get away with that more easily.
But, like Popeye, “I yam what I yam.” I like variety, I like unexpected juxtapositions, and it turns out that a small but not entirely insignificant number of readers like those things too.
I also like sleep, but for reasons that I can never quite figure out, I don’t get enough of it.
Helen: I just described your short fiction as comprising both speculative fiction and contemporary realism, as exemplified in your short story collection Transported (Vintage, 2008.) But I know you prefer to say that you write “interstitial fiction”—can you explain what you mean by that?
Tim: I seized upon “interstitial fiction”, which is also called (or is closely allied to) “slipstream fiction”, a few years ago as a handy name for what I do. It’s a term that captures fiction that lives in the cracks between speculative fiction and literary fiction, and I suppose its most famous exponent is Kelly Link.
It might be truer, though, to say that I write fiction that lies on either side of that boundary, plus some fiction – often my humorous or absurdist fiction – that lives in the interstices.
Helen: Whether speculative or interstitial, what would you regard as the major influences on your fiction to date and how would you like to see it develop in future?
Tim: When I started writing, my fiction was most strongly influenced by what I read – and, in my teens and twenties, that was almost exclusively science fiction, from Aldiss to Ballard to Clarke, from Le Guin to Pohl to Silverberg. As my reading has grown wider and my life experience has increased, those additional strands have also been reflected in my fiction, whether literary or speculative. These days, I’m juggling Kim Stanley Robinson with Jorge Luis Borges with James Tiptree, Jnr.
I’m currently returning to writing short stories after some years concentrating on writing and editing poetry, and I’m enjoying the sense that I now have more understanding of what types of stories I write well, and more control over the path each story should take from beginning to end. So, megalomaniac that I am, I want to gain more control of more aspects of writing, write more short stories that I am truly satisfied with, and then see whether I can apply what I have learned to writing another novel though fitting the writing of a novel around other aspects of my life, not least earning a reliable income, is a sizeable challenge.
Helen: Together with Mark Pirie, you co-edited Voyagers: Science Fiction Poetry from New Zealand (Interactive Press, 2009), which won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Collected Work 2010. What, for you, defines the relationship between poetry and speculative prose fiction: do their borders march, or are they foreign countries?
Tim: I think almost all writing, unless it is pure reportage, has an element of “what if”: even literary fiction can deal with “what if?” questions of character or style. Likewise, with the possible exception of the pure lyric, poetry can also ask “what if?” questions.
Asking “what if?” is the essence of speculative writing, which means that almost all poetry can be speculative. That doesn’t necessarily mean that writers of speculative fiction can successfully turn their hands to speculative poetry: I think that writing successful speculative poetry requires both talent at writing poetry and possession of the speculative gene… or meme, or whatever the heck it is.
So yes, I believe their borders march, and their marches border.
About the Interviewer:
Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, interviewer, and a 2012 Ursula Bethell Writer-in-Residence at the University of Canterbury. The Gathering of the Lost, the second novel in her The Wall of Night series, was published in April, and she has recently won the Gemmell Morningstar Award 2012 for the first-in-series, The Heir of Night. Helen posts every day on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog, on the first of every month on the Supernatural Underground, and occasionally here on SF Signal. You can also follow her on Twitter: @helenl0we
List of Links used (in the order they appear in the text):
 The southernmost province of New Zealand’s South Island.
Filed under: Interviews
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