Continuing my interview series called THE SEVEN, in which I invite some of my favorite authors to answer seven questions about their most recent projects, today’s guest is surely one of the busiest and most prolific authors in the genre, Tim Lebbon. Tim is the multiple award-winning author of The Nature of Balance, Face, White & Other Tales of Ruin (the title story of which should be required reading for any horror fan), Hush (with Gavin Williams), the Noreela series of dark fantasy novels Dusk, Dawn, Fallen, and The Island, and most recently Echo City, the novelization of the hit horror film The Cabin in the Woods (movie reviewed here), and a new series (with Christopher Golden), The Secret Journeys of Jack London.
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Q. What is your most recent release?
The Sea Wolves, Book Two of The Secret Journeys of Jack London, co-written with Christopher Golden (excerpt below).
Q. What inspired the project?
There’s a long version I’ll tell you one day over a pint, but for now here’s the short version:
I wrote the novelisation to the 30 Days of Night movie. At a Thai meal in Toronto during the World Horror Convention, someone asked whether I’d added any scenes in, and I mentioned what I think is a really cool scene––a Polar bear enters the town and is stalked and killed by vampires. We joked about vampire Polar bears, I said ‘Yeah, White Fangs’, and Chris said, ‘You know what, we could totally do that’. We fired ideas over the table, and within a minute we were discussing The Secret Journeys of Jack London. A minute later, in what might have been the fastest offer ever, we were offered a three book deal by a publisher who was eating with us. That fell through, which was no bad thing because the series ended up with HarperCollins, and was bought by Twentieth Century Fox before the first book was even published. Result!
Q. What is the primary theme you’ve chosen to explore with this project?
All three books concern Jack London’s coming of age and his coming to terms with the streak of wild he carries inside him. We think it’s something that will appeal to any teenager, or anyone who’s ever been a teenager. They’re books about confronting the world outside, which is perhaps the greatest challenge in growing from childhood to adulthood.
Q. Of everything you’ve written to date, which project has been the most difficult for you?
My novella The Reach of Children, one of my most critically acclaimed pieces of writing which was also the hardest to write. It was influenced heavily by my mother’s illness and death.
Q. Which title would you suggest as a good introduction for newcomers to your work, and why?
That’s a difficult one, because my work changes as I grow older. Right now I think I’d suggest Echo City. It’s a fantasy novel, but very very dark, and it shows how my writing retains a gritty ‘horror’ edge even when I stray into alternate worlds. My work is becoming more diverse, I think, with this year seeing publication of a big scale horror thriller, a fantasy novel, and the first in a YA trilogy. I’m also writing screenplays now, my latest being My Haunted House, a spooky animated movie for children that I’ve written for a UK producer/director team.
Q. What are your thoughts on the burgeoning digital market?
It’s happening. We have to grab on or be left behind. As with any new technology it’s suffering birthing pains, but it’s here to stay, and I think in the long run it is going to be fantastic for readers and writers. Many are proclaiming the end of books, but I think the initial chaos will settle down into a happy medium. Printed books will inevitably suffer sales-wise, but I think they’ll always be with us in some form.
Q. What’s next for you?
2012 is an exciting year for me. Coldbrook is out from Hammer in the autumn, as well as The Heretic Land, my new fantasy novel from Orbit. My novelisation of The Cabin in the Woods should be hitting shelves right about now. And my first solo YA novel, London Eye: Toxic City Book One, is due soon from Pyr in the USA. I’m also working on a couple of screenplays, one solo and one with my mate Steve Volk. And there are other exciting projects I can’t mention yet, but watch this space.
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And now, an exclusive excerpt from The Sea Wolves, Book Two of Tim Lebbon and Christopher Golden’s The Secret Journeys of Jack London series.
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If it hadn’t been for the pelican, Jack London would have been murdered by the Wolves.
Even lulled by the gentle motion of the ship, he had been unable to sleep or rest, though in truth that was all his body craved. His mind burned with memories of his adventures in the north, and each ache, pain and wound recalled those experiences as surely as a smell or sound. Confined in a cramped cabin with his friend Merritt Sloper and three weary men whose eyes were flat with defeat, Jack’s senses sang with other sensations. So long in the wilderness—and with his own wild nature urging him to run, to climb, to live—he felt stifled by that room, and it was inevitable that the pressure would drive him up onto deck.
And so it had been for the last three nights. The days were easier, filled with casual conversations and hours spent gazing into the hazy distance, wrapped against the cold and yet buffeted by the sun. But the nights were more difficult. It was as if the darkness called him into its embrace—the darkness of infinity, not the false shade of a room without light.
Jack welcomed it. He breathed in the fresh air and held onto the railing, legs shifting slightly as the ship dipped and rose through the gentle Pacific swell. His hair was ruffled by the breeze, and it felt like the hand of a loved one soothing his brow. Perhaps I do need soothing, he thought, because the memory of all he had been through—the deadly Chilkoot trail, his near-death in the great white silence, Lesya, and the dreadful Wendigo—were enough to drive any ordinary person mad. But one thing Jack had learned during his months in the frozen north: he was far from ordinary.
“I’m Jack London,” he said, and the name was amazing to him. This was no self-aggrandizement, no hubris; he had begun to learn what a single human being might be capable of, and wanted to explore that potential to its fullest extent.
There was a light mist settled on the sea, and a heavier bank of it some distance to starboard. He could make out the half-moon and stars as vague smudges above, and turning around he saw the captain and the best of his crew hunkered in the wheelhouse, doing their utmost to ensure that the Umatilla sailed true and safe. Two men sat in the crow’s nest thirty feet above, their vague shapes and gentle chatter lost to the mist and darkness. Jack walked forward toward the bow, where he knew that in the blink of an eye he could feel totally alone.
He wondered what it would feel like to make a solitary journey across these seas. On his way to Alaska so many months before he had appreciated the immensity of the ocean, its power, and the respect it required to master it. Now, he saw its wildness.
There was movement at the bow. At first he thought it was a clump of impacted snow, or a tangle of material shivering in the breeze. But when he approached he saw the heavy beak and beady eye, the wings folded in, and the pelican huddled there regarded him with neither trust, nor fear.
“Hello, bird,” Jack said softly. He glanced back and up, but no one else seemed to have noticed the creature. Swirls of moisture played across deck, and the rolling bank of mist to starboard seemed to have moved closer. No one else strolled the deck this late at night. He turned back to the bird, and it had raised its head and half-spread its wings.
Jack went to his hands and knees, trying to present no threat to this magnificent creature. He looked it over for signs of injury, but could see none. The bird had simply seen the ship as a place to rest, and perhaps it had done so many times before, recognizing the bow as one of the quietest places on board come night time.
“I’ll not harm you,” he said softly, and his throat seemed to throb with an unusual vibration. He realized that he had no real idea what sound these birds made, but it bobbed its head, flapped its mighty wings several times, and then hunkered down again. Jack grew still, and found himself staring into the bird’s eye. He was reflected in there. He wondered how it viewed him—threat, something interesting, or simply part of the scenery?
He watched as Lesya, the forest spirit, had taught him to watch, and before long he did not perceive this tableau as man and beast at all. It was simply observer and observed. Though in the end she had proved to be a mad thing, Lesya had given him a gift, opening his mind and senses so that if he focused he could touch the thoughts of other creatures. Reaching out to the pelican, he sensed the same feeling of foreboding that had only just started to settle over him.
In the distance, Jack heard several resounding thuds of waves striking a hull. He frowned. The Umatilla rode smooth as ever, and he had not felt even the smallest impact vibration. The pelican lifted and opened its heavy beak, as if tasting the darkness.
Jack heard that sound again, the thud-wash, thud-wash of a hull cutting across the waves instead of going with them. He looked up at the two men in the crow’s nest, but they were vague shadows behind a gentle haze of mist, and he could not even tell which direction they were looking.
“What’s this, then?” he asked the pelican, and the bird spread its wings. But it remained behind the railing, turning on its big feet so that it could look directly back along the deck. I could call to the lookouts, Jack thought. But what would he say? Darkness and the mist stirred his senses, and that feeling of things slightly askew might be only in his mind.
He leaned on the railing and looked down, ghostly white-tops breaking gently away from the ship. They were cutting through the water, not impacting against the waves, and the spray that reached him up here was carried on the gentlest of breezes.
A shadow moved far out across the waves. Jack held onto the railing and scanned the skeins of mist that played like curtains across the ocean’s surface. Something huge, he thought.
And then he saw the shadow again. A hardening of the mists, a solidifying of shapes that danced where no one normally watched, and the boat that emerged was cutting a diagonal that would intercept the Umatilla within twenty seconds. Three masts, maybe a hundred feet long, the craft was dwarfed by the Umatilla. And yet there was something about the way it moved that seemed almost predatory.
The vessel’s masts sported dark sails that swallowed the weak moonlight, and it slipped through the water as if it were hardly there at all, a phantom ship. The only sign of its existence was the intermittent thump of waves against its hull, but that lessened as the ship came close to matching the Umatilla’s course.
Jack could see shadows busy in the rigging, and more on deck. The booms swung as the schooner drew down alongside the Umatilla. And Jack knew then that something was very wrong indeed.
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Read More of The Sea Wolves…
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Excerpt copyright (c) 2012 by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon. No unauthorized reproduction permitted.