Author Spotlight – Tim Clare
Joining us for today’s Author Spotlight is Tim Clare!
Tim Clare is the author of THE HONOURS, THE ICE HOUSE, and WE CAN’T ALL BE ASTRONAUTS (winner Best Biography/Memoir – 2009 East Anglian Book Awards).
He presents the creative writing podcast DEATH OF 1000 CUTS for anyone who wants to know how to write a novel, write great fiction, and get published. His Couch to 80k Writing Boot Camp is a free 8-week writing course by podcast.
Welcome to the Hive, Tim. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I’m working through THE WATER MARGIN at the moment. It’s an absolutely fantastic saga of bandits and drunken monks and injustice and demons sealed inside caves. All the chapters are short and full of plot, and some parts are laugh out loud funny. I can’t get enough.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
I mean, this is a question I ask myself most weeks. My answer changes all the time, but at the moment, a goblin Musket Master, carrying a well-loved oversized rifle I spend an inordinate amount of time tinkering with and fixing. I’m not sure I’d ever be a party leader, though. I’m much more suited to a support role. Or I guess a backseat driver role? Like, I don’t want responsibility for the party’s misfortunes but I’ll give input anyway. Anyway. The rifle is called Mister Reasonable.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons with Mister Reasonable, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit?) Tell us a little bit about your writing method!
I can’t work with music. I’ve tried, and even though I can do sentences with instrumental music on, over the years I’ve found it comes slower than with silence. I’ve seem some studies that suggest listening to music while working impairs creativity. It certainly splits my attention in ways that don’t feel constructive.
On the other hand, images and whole scenes have come to me while I’m listening to music. So I’m not against it, I just can’t do the actual words-on-page while it’s happening.
I like typing and handwriting. I’ve filled a big A4 journal this past 18 months and I try to do 10 minute freewrites when I remember. Handwriting is great for ideas, scribbles, notes, exercises, and of course for drawing maps, etc. So I often write the first fragments in longhand. But pretty soon I want it on the screen, where I can edit easily, and search the text when it starts getting long.
Plotting and pantsing are tactics, not identities. I tend to pants for a bit, then when it gets tricky plot for a bit, then go and write those bits out, pantsing detail and content, sometimes changing what I’d planned, then go back and write out a new plan, and so on. They play off each other. But maybe one day I’ll completely plan a novel from beginning to end. Or completely adlib one. Who knows? It’s a shame, I think, to completely close yourself off from new ways of working.
What (or who) are your most significant fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
I thought Katsuhiro Otomo’s AKIRA and STEAMBOY were both rad, though neither are Fantasy per se. And William Golding’s LORD OF THE FLIES had a big impact on me as a teenager, though again, it’s not really Fantasy. I’ve got to say JONATHAN STRANGE & MR NORRELL completely blew my mind when I read it. I think, honestly, games series like ZELDA and FINAL FANTASY had a big impact. Like, CHRONO TRIGGER is some of the best storytelling and game design I’ve ever encountered. I care about that world and those characters, I think the escalations are done well, the transition from the inciting incident of the first act to this big reveal of the real problem, and it manages to be cool, silly and poignant all in one thing. That, to me, rocks.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
I’ve been working through the first two seasons of VOLTRON with my daughter. The mech design is pretty cool. And I like that the show isn’t too gut-wrenchingly stressful. I’ve had enough of TV that makes me feel worried and sick about people who aren’t real!
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
The boring, truthful answer is with my family. With my wife and daughter, hanging out.
But I also really love playing board games, swimming outdoors, running and reading. So some kind of minibreak that included all those would be grand.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
It’s about goblins who live on a giant tower at the top of a floating city. They’re war refugees who’ve founded a commune that operates without money, and of course they’re mercilessly persecuted. The story follows four of them who pull a heist on a food wagon and become the only people who can save the city.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
When you’re feeling stuck or overwhelmed, ask yourself ‘What’s my next action?’ Find the next, small, good thing you can do – whether that’s opening your laptop, walking up to your room where you write, writing ‘The’. Just focus on figuring out what the smallest next task is, then do it.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
I often don’t. I’m a dad with a young daughter, and I’m sometimes worn out, or suffering from anxiety, or distracted, or on a tricky bit. But I think some good habits that have helped me have been to meditate regularly, to do ten-minute timed freewrites when I’m feeling overwhelmed as a way of giving myself an easy, consequence-free win, and to sometimes stop and listen to the part of me that’s resisting. What is it trying to tell me? Is there an intuition there that might have useful information? And to realise that a day spent writing bad stuff you throw away is better than a day spent avoiding writing in case it turns out bad. It’s OK to experiment.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
Oh gosh, what a question. Honestly, there are few places in the world I wouldn’t like to visit, and few times. What a feast of stuff.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
Steve Aylett’s ACCOMPLICE quartet is my favourite Fantasy series of all time. I’ve raved about it and received funny looks. He makes most Fantasy look grey and timid by comparison. He can put a sentence together, he can be interesting, he can design a monster. If you’re distracted by the badgers and snot you’ll miss that he’s written a fierce, tragic work of satire.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
You know stories where a plucky young protagonist stumbles upon things far beyond their understanding, and must overcome incredible odds? THE ICE HOUSE is about that protagonist 70 years later. It’s about the life that comes after, and the lasting trauma of adventure. Delphine is old, but she remembers everything. She thinks the war ended years ago. But she’s about to find out.
War doesn’t end. It sleeps.
It sounds brilliant. Thanks again for joining us, Tim!
Tim Clare is the author of THE HONOURS. Book two in the series, THE ICE HOUSE, is available now.