Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Tim Major?
I’m an SF/horror writer. I live in York in the UK with my wife and two sons, and I’m a freelance editor by day and a writer… well, also by day, actually – I need as much sleep as I can get, with two young kids in the house. I’ve published four novels, a short story collection, and a non-fiction film book about the 1915 silent film Les Vampires, as wells as lots of stories in various places.
Your latest novel, Hope Island, was published recently by Titan Books. It looks really interesting: How would you introduce it to a potential reader?
Different readers have described it in quite different ways. I’d say it’s about a mother trying to reconnect with her daughter on a remote Maine island, who encounters a bunch of strange things: creepy island children, a strange artistic commune that has a mysterious archaeological find on its property… and lots of dead bodies. But there’s a lot about sound and silence, which some readers have really responded to – I suppose the book’s a bit unusual in that respect. A lot of the horror elements revolve around sound.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
Initially, it was a sort of response to one of my favourite SF books, John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos, which is about creepy children, and which I read when I was growing up. (Incidentally, it strikes me as interesting that a kid might enjoy stories about murderous children – what does that say about me?) John Wyndham has been a constant inspiration to me – my previous novel, Snakeskins, contained references to his best-known novel, The Day of the Triffids. Additionally, all of my novels were written in the years I became a parent, so it seems natural that I’ve been writing about parenthood in various forms – Hope Island is the most explicit example so far. It’s as much about the fear of not loving your child enough as it is about a fear of children in themselves.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
As I say, John Wyndham was the ‘gateway’, after a childhood diet of classic Doctor Who episodes. Then H.G. Wells – both he and Wyndham wrote horror fiction as much as SF, I think, particularly Triffids and Wells’ The Invisible Man, which is vile (in the best possible way). After my mid-teens I drifted away from genre fiction for many years, but returned to it once I entered full-time employment – in particular, post-apocalyptic fiction. In a strange way, the idea of a catastrophe resulting in a clean slate was very comforting while I was mired in a day-to-day grind of meetings and business reports during my first jobs in the educational publishing industry. I named my website ‘Cosy Catastrophes’ to reflect this – in fact, the name is a reference to Brian Aldiss’s disparaging assessment of John Wyndham’s fiction, which completes the circle, I suppose.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
Writing is all I want to do, really. It’s all I ever wanted to do. When I was a kid I’d type out my favourite short stories on my mum’s typewriter, and now I have as much love for the act of typing, and editing, and all the associated tasks as I do the act of creating fiction. Editing is my ‘flow state’, whether it’s my own work or other people’s.
The genre writing community has been enormously welcoming and friendly, and having attended conventions, now some of my closest friends are writers. Editors and publishers, too, are overwhelming lovely people. The industry itself is less friendly, I’d say, if you were to consider it as an entity. It can often be hard to understand, or to know how to approach, and its main characteristic is the requirement to be patient, because publishing your work involves a lot of waiting.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
Lockdown and homeschooling (we’re wading through week 18 right now!) has thrown everything up in the air, but thankfully hasn’t entirely prevented me from writing. I tend to write for a couple of hours first thing each morning, then turn my attention to work. I’m happy working through a first draft, and even happier on a second pass, when the novel has acquired a hint of its shape and theme. I’ve become a fairly meticulous planner, so I always tend to know where I’m going scene to scene, though the specifics are often vague. Mostly, I’ve tended to write contemporary fiction that doesn’t require much research, but the novel I’ve just completed is set in the fairground community in 1897, so I had to do a lot of work before beginning the draft. I surprised myself by really enjoying having to do research.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
When I was 10, I wrote a piece of Doctor Who fan fiction, then typed it up, made a front cover, photocopied lots of copies and sold it – with an impressive mark-up. I read it again recently – it’s actually not terrible.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
British SF/F/horror is in great shape at the moment – in particular, the group of writers producing hard-to-define work at the edges of several genres, sometimes referred to as ‘slipstream’ or ‘weird fiction’. I’m thinking of, for example, Priya Sharma, Matt Hill, Nina Allan, Aliya Whiteley, James Smythe, among many others. Whether or not my work fits neatly with the work of these writers, I don’t know, but I do know that they’re enormously influential on the sort of thing I want to write.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
Always! NewCon Press will publish my Martian murder mystery novella fairly soon. The Victorian fairground fantasy I mentioned is currently out of submission, as is another novella, a folk horror. I’m about a third of the way through a new novel which is bigger and stranger than anything I’ve done before, and which I suspect is a product of the mania produced by life during lockdown.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
My first response to lockdown was to begin working my way through the hefty classic novels on my shelves which I’ve never got around to – I couldn’t quite explain why. I’ve just discovered Richard Yates and have been tearing through his books, including Revolutionary Road, but I’m currently reading Austen’s Northanger Abbey. I have non-fiction books on the go too, but I won’t mention the titles as they relate to an announcement for another day.
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
Good grief – only one? How on earth might I find myself in that position? I don’t think I can allow myself to think about this for long, otherwise it’ll drive me crazy. I don’t think I can even pick a novel. So how about this: Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay (1841), which is both enormously entertaining and probably quite enlightening in the current, deluded, mad, crowded era.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
Honestly, I have no surprises. I’m enormously dull. Pleasant enough, though, I hope.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
The same as everyone else: a vaccine, or something like it. The return of my children to primary school, for some of the days of the week. The ability to write more regularly and for longer periods of time, essentially. I’m a writer, and writing is what I want to do.
Also on CR: Excerpt from Snakeskins