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INTERVIEW: Tim Lebbon on THE SILENCE and the Fascination of the Apocalypse

TimLebbonBram Stoker award winning author Tim Lebbon has written over 30 novels and novelizations, including Mesmer, Coldbrook, Cabin in the Woods, Alien: Out of the Shadows, and Star Wars: Dawn of the Jedi, Into the Void.  Tim’s newest novel, The Silence, hits bookstore shelves on April 14th.

He was kind enough to answer a few of my questions about the new novel, why writing apocalyptic fiction is so fun, and his experiences having his own work show up on the big screen. You can follow Tim on twitter at @timlebbon, and learn more about his works at his website, TimLebbon.net


Andrea Johnson: Congratulations on your new book, The Silence!  This is a horrifying post apocalyptic story of among other more terrifying things, the age of verbal communication coming to an end.  How did you come up with the idea of creatures who hunt by sound, and thus the silence of humanity being our only survival method?

Tim Lebbon: Sometimes the genesis of an idea sticks with me in great detail. Other times, it’s a vague thing. This one is the latter. It’s strange, I spend so long thinking about the novel, planning it in my head and sometimes on paper, writing it, revising, expanding … and often in that process the moment of inspiration is lost in the mist. I think with The Silence, it must have been the idea of creatures – monsters – that hunt purely by sound that came first. But I can’t remember where, when or how. So that’s a long non-answer to your first question, sorry. I’ll try to do better soon, and so on to . . .

AJ: What effect do you think the loss of verbal methods of communication would have on humanity, in the long and very long term?

TL: Well, in the book we don’t lose the ability to communicate verbally as such. It just becomes essential to keep quiet a lot of the time. There’s still communication between my family members . . . looks, the secret family language of touch and expression, and more importantly the sign language they’re all used to using. But if a more extreme version of communication loss happened, I think it would drop humanity back into the past. Complex communication is part of what sets us aside from other animals. Without the communication of ideas, where would we be?

AJ: Who is your favorite character in The Silence? what made that person so satisfying to write?

TL: It has to be Ally. She was a really challenge to write, not just because she’s a teenaged girl, but because she’s deaf. I’m quite confident writing female characters, and I have a teenaged daughter with whom I could discuss ideas. Even so, my editor did make some suggestions, as she thought some of the language I used for Ally’s internal thoughts was a little old. But writing from the POV of a deaf person was one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever given myself. I hope it paid off. I like Ally because she’s strong, confident, and doesn’t see her deafness as a disability.

AJ: Without giving us any spoilers (if possible), what is your favorite scene in the book? Were there any scenes that were particularly challenging or frustrating to write? More generally speaking, how do you get past it when writing a scene frustrates you?

TL: I think my favourite scene is towards the end, when the family is together in the house facing assault from outside. I love siege stories. And . . . to say any more would be too spoilerish! There’s also a scene in a car with the family, another form of siege scene, where a very difficult decision is taken. That one was very hard to write, and a lot of people have commented on how traumatic it was for them, some to the extent that it made them dislike the book. Which is strange, but it shows that the scene was effective. Horrible to write, though. You’ll have to buy it to find out what I’m talking about.

AJ:  What makes apocalyptic and post apocalyptic novels so much fun to write?

TL: I get to destroy the world.

I’m not sure why I love them so much. I’ve always loved reading apocalyptic fiction, from an early age, so I naturally progressed to writing it. There’s a fascination there, because humanity will likely end one day. And it’s also a fertile place for telling stories of extremes – of characters, situations, landscapes and decisions. Death is a fascination in horror stories, in any stories. And apocalyptic stories involve the death of humanity. I find it interesting putting myself in the place of survivors and wondering how I’d act. Although in truth I suspect I wouldn’t be like Rick in The Walking Dead, surviving whatever . . . I’d be more like that wizened zombie he puts out of its misery in Episode One.

Plus, I get to destroy the world.

AJ: You mention on your About section on your website that you live in a small village in the country, and that a countryside environment shown up in much of your writing. How do you think your writing would be different if you had lived in a bustling city your whole life?

TL: The landscape where I live, and the countryside I love, has influenced my writing for a long time. It’s partly because I know it, and partly because I understand it more than I do the city. I also love exercising in the countryside – I swim, run and bike a lot – and that has directly influenced a forthcoming thriller, The Hunt, as well being a big influence on The Silence. I do write urban novels too, of course. But if I still lived in a big city, I think it would be inevitable that most of my stories would be set there.

AJ: You’ve co-written a number of books over the years, most often with Christopher Golden. How is co-writing a book easier than writing on your own? How is it harder?

TL: I love collaborating, and have done so for years. With Chris is works so well. We trust each other, respect each other’s strengths and opinions, and we’re both prolific. I love having a collaboration ongoing in the background because after a few months, there’s a whole new project finished! We’re both always working on our own work at the same time, too.

It also makes for a very different creative process. I’ve written books with Chris that I’d never have written on my own (and I’m sure he’d say the same). We edit each other’s work as we go along, so the finished product is usually pretty clean. And two minds working on a project can make it easier to overcome difficult plot points, or prevent us from writing ourselves into a corner. It’s very satisfying, and I really hope we do something together again soon. It’s been too long!

AJ: You’ve written a number of Tie-In novels, such as in the Alien and Star Wars franchises. How did you get involved with writing tie-ins? How is writing in someone else’s universe different from writing in your own?

TL: I’m lucky enough to have been approached to write these projects. I think the first one was the first of my two original Hellboy novels, and that led on to the 30 Days of Night novelisation, which in turn led to other work. They’re great fun, and I’ve only ever done projects I’m excited or passionate about. They’re usually to a tight deadline, and the guidelines vary from project to project. I’ve done quite a few now, and forthcoming is a big Alien & Predator trilogy for Titan, called The Rage War.

It is sometimes difficult writing in someone else’s universe. There are rules you have to follow, characters you can’t kill, planets you can’t blow up, that sort of thing. But generally I’m given quite a bit of freedom, and the stories, and often the characters, are all mine. In the Star Wars novel especially I had hardly any restrictions, other than having to set it in the same system as the Dawn of the Jedi comics. The characters were all mine, and places, and a lot of the tech was mine too. Great fun. Honestly, I think I’ve written in some of the very best tie-in universes there are. Being offered Star Wars was a nice surprise and a real thrill, but the Alien novels have been a real delight, as I’m such a huge fan.

AJ: To flip the Tie-in question on it’s head, you’ve got a movie coming out! Nicolas cage and Sarah Wayne Callies are starring in the movie of your short story “Pay The Ghost” (release date to be announced).  Getting a movie deal is something I think all authors dream of. Tell us a little about your experiences when you learned the movie was being made, and what involvement you had with turning a beloved short story in a movie.

TL: Yes, it’s fantastic news, and I’m very excited about the whole thing. I’ve had lots of projects optioned, probably 15 or more, but this is the first that’s ever made it all the way to being filmed. As is normal with these things it was a long, convoluted process. Following the initial option several years ago, when I was sent the script to read, I’ve had very little else to do with it. Other production companies became involved, rewrites happened, then Nicolas Cage signed on and everything started moving very quickly. So I’m as keen as anyone to see the finished product!

AJ: Thanks Tim!

About Andrea Johnson (99 Articles)
Andrea Johnson also blogs over at https://littleredreviewer.wordpress.com/ where she reviews science fiction and fantasy novels and talks about other nerdy stuff. She's also an interviewer at Apex Magazine. Her apartment looks like a library exploded, and that is how it should be.
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