CK interviews author Tim Lebbon
CelebrateKnoxville.com chats with New York Times-bestselling author Tim Lebbon about his new post-apocalyptic thriller, “Coldbrook”, published by Hammer Books, 2012.
CK: First I want to thank you for setting this zombie apocalypse so close to home. I can’t wait to share the book with other zombie fiction fans in Knoxville, Tennessee. Did you always have it in mind to place Coldbrook in the Appalachian mountains? Why not in South Wales, where you are from?
Author Tim Lebbon. Photo by Nick Lebbon.
TL: I always wanted to set it in the 'States, because a scientific undertaking as huge as Coldbrook would probably be much more likely get funding there than closer to where I live! I also really wanted to write a novel set in the 'States, as most of my stand-alone horror novels have a very British feel to them.
The setting is also testament to how much a story changes in the telling––in the book's original proposal, there was a largish section set in the UK, but as I was writing it I realised that the pacing and tone of the story would change a lot were that to happen.
As for the Appalachian mountains, that's a place I've always wanted to visit. So setting a novel there, and therefore having to research the area online and in books, was the next best thing.
CK: Have you ever visited Tennessee?
TL: Unfortunately not. One day. Maybe if they ever make a Coldbrook movie.
CK: We have talked before about characters in your stories who have hope (during an interview after “The Thief of Broken Toys” came out) I think you said something along the lines of “lots of my stories have hope in them, whether the characters take hold of it or not.” In Coldbrook, it seems that most of the characters do have hope, if only to survive. Do you agree?
TL: Absolutely. I've written a lot of post-apocalyptic fiction, and Coldbrook is quite unusual for me in that I focus on the people associated with the catastrophe––those who caused it, and who seek to stop it, and those who might have the chance to prevent its spread. Usually I'll write about innocents affected by such disasters, but in this book it's the people most closely associated with it. And in their case, the hope is tinged with desperation and a terrible sense of responsibility. It made the characters fascinating to write. One or two of them are directly responsible for the deaths of millions ... but the real antagonists, revealed as the book progresses, are responsible for far more terrible things.
CK: Do you believe in alternative universes? Is that a theory that seems very real and/or plausible to you personally?
TL: It's such an abstract concept to get your head around that I think it's difficult to even begin to understand. I did loads of research whilst writing the novel––perhaps more than for any book I've ever done––but I still feel that I understand hardly any of the science. It's nice to think it's true. But also a little disconcerting, too. As for plausible, once you really get into cutting edge science and quantum physics, things are so strange that it would be stranger if it wasn't true.
CK: As a writer, do you enjoy exploring other theories of existence?
TL: Yes, whether it's in a horror/thriller like Coldbrook, or an alternate world fantasy novel like Echo City. Pretty much everything I've ever written contains an element of the fantastic ... we live in this world all the time, so when I'm writing I'm always keen to explore what might be beyond. I find that far more exciting!
CK: I found Jayne’s struggle with her illness to be as mysterious as the zombie plague itself, and her story of courage weaves beautifully through all the places where even the most frightening things happen. Was she the first character that came to mind in writing this?
TL: No, but she was one of the most interesting to write. I researched extremely rare diseases––those with a one-in-a-million hit rate, for instance. And I discovered that with conditions so rare, there are sometimes no treatments or research available simply because of the condition's rarity. Hers is a very personal struggle, but she's thrust into terrifying situations through no fault of her own. Because of her condition, she might be the seed of a cure.
CK: I thought it was wonderful that throughout the story, your characters have to deal with both the zombie mythology as well as the actual zombie threat. Many zombie stories try to explain what makes a person turn into a zombie. Was that something you chose ahead of time to avoid or did you just decide to let the characters work it out scientifically, since most of the main characters are scientists?
TL: The source and cause of the zombie outbreak is one of the big reveals to the story, so it's a big part of what the characters are dealing with. So the slow-build realization was intentional.
CK: What makes a story a “fantasy” story?
TL: I think it's anything not set in our world that doesn't rely on strong scientific elements. So for Coldbrook I'd say it's a horror novel with science fiction elements, rather than a fantasy story. But pigeonholing is always largely subjective anyway.
CK: I found myself really moving fast through this book, although for me it was quite long at 632 pages. It really did flow amazingly well. Did you have the story in your head for a while before you sat down to write it? How does that length compare with other works you have done?
TL: It's just about the longest book I've ever written. I wanted to write something fast-paced, a thriller, but at the same time I was keen to make the zombie aspect of it my own. So while there’s what some might regard as zombie tropes, I think there's stuff in the book that no one's seen before, too. I also think that because it was originally conceived of as an even larger story, that streamlining makes it a much more satisfying read.
CK: Did you have any second thoughts about writing a story about zombies, since some consider that to be a topic that is found too often in the field of horror literature?
TL: Not at all. I loved writing the book, because I'd always wanted to write a zombie novel.
CK: When “Coldbrook” begins, the breach has already been working for a long while but I found myself really wanting to know more about the origin of the project, and more about Bill Coldbrook. Any chance you will revisit this story line with a prequel or a follow-up?
TL: I'll never say never, although I suspect any new visit to the Coldbrook universe will be much shorter.
CK: I saw where Fox 2000 recently acquired film rights to “The Secret Journeys of Jack London.” That must be very exciting. Do you enjoy writing screenplays as much as novels?
TL: Yes, I do, it's a really refreshing experience writing a screenplay just because the process is so different. It's all storytelling, but in a very different way. I'd love to write some more. I have one or two spec scripts that need some TLC before I send them out, and I'm always throwing around ideas for more.
CK: I have seen on your Facebook page that you have become very diligent in running races and staying fit. Does the regular exercise help you work out plot lines while you run?
TL: Yes, it's become a big part of my life. In fact this year I'm entering my first Ironman race (a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a full marathon, all within 17 hours)! Sometimes I'll turn over a story idea when I'm running, but more often the benefit simply comes from getting the blood flowing, blowing away cobwebs, feeling good. It's not often I'll come home and have to write down a slew of ideas, but I do think that a healthy body can promote a healthy mind.
CK: Finally, I have to ask if you have plans to attend the World Horror Convention in New Orleans this year?
TL: Unfortunately no, though I'd love to visit that city one day.
CK: Anything else you would like to add, maybe a warning to the Knoxville readers about staying away from certain places in the mountains that look like they might be portals to another world?
TL: If they get close enough to see the portal it'll be too late!
TIM LEBBON is a New York Times-bestselling writer from South Wales. He’s had almost thirty novels published to date, as well as dozens of novellas and hundreds of short stories. His most recent releases include Coldbrook from Arrow/Hammer, London Eye (book one of the Toxic City trilogy) from Pyr in the USA, Nothing as it Seems from PS Publishing, and The Heretic Land from Orbit, as well as The Secret Journeys of Jack London series (co-authored with Christopher Golden), Echo City, and the Cabin in the Woods novelisation. Future novels include Into the Void: Dawn of the Jedi (Star Wars) from Del Rey/Star Wars Books. He has won four British Fantasy Awards, a Bram Stoker Award, and a Scribe Award, and has been a finalist for International Horror Guild, Shirley Jackson, and World Fantasy Awards.
20th Century Fox acquired film rights to The Secret Journeys of Jack London series, and he and Golden wrote the first draft of the screenplay. A TV series of his Toxic City trilogy is in development with ABC Network in the USA, and he's also working on new screenplays, both solo and in collaboration with Stephen Volk.
Find out more about Tim at his website www.timlebbon.net