Ever since I quit work fourteen years ago to write for a living, my working day has followed pretty much a similar pattern. Because my wife works and my kids are in school and uni (and back when I began were in nursery and primary school), my writing tends to fit within the usual 9-5 format that I was used to when I worked for local government (interesting aside––I know several horror writers who used to work for local government. Someone should produce a paper on that). So I’ll get up and do the usual morning chores––breakfast, make lunchbox for my son, check social media and emails––then when everyone is out of the door, I settle down with cup of tea #2 and start writing.
I tend to write for maybe 5 hours during the day, with stops for coffee and a snack at 11-ish, then lunch about 1:00. My wife’s home from work around 3, and my son from school about 3:45, so effectively that’s when I stop actual writing. But ‘writing’ isn’t just getting words down on paper. It’s editing, proofing, dealing with business emails from editors and agents, planning new projects, collaborating on other projects, answering emails from readers, responding to interviews, Skyping … all manner of activities that aren’t actual writing. These I tend to do late afternoon and evening, when the family is home and it’s not so essential for me to sit and concentrate.
Of course, I’m writing this post during coronavirus lockdown, and everything has changed! But that’s another story…
So, with my new novel Eden, how did my writing habits and pattern change?
Firstly, I can remember exactly where I was when I had the germ of the idea, and I still have the notebook I wrote it in. I picked up that notebook from a shop in Tufts University which I visited with my good friends Chris Golden and Jim Moore. This was after I’d spent some time on the set of The Silence in Toronto, and I’d gone down to Massachusetts to stay with Golden for a few days. Following on from that I went to New York for a couple of days, and it was in my room in New York that I cracked that notebook open one evening and started making notes. The ideas I scribbled there bear little resemblance to the finished book, but two ideas formed the backbone of the book––endurance sport; climate crisis.
The seed of Eden, and its mythical Ghost Orchid, were planted there in that NY room.
When I actually got down to writing the novel, one major difference was that I wrote the entire novel on spec before my agent submitted it. Often if I’m tied into a contract with a particular publisher I’ll write a few chapters and a proposal of a new novel, discuss with my editor, then go away and write the whole book. With Eden I wrote the whole novel without getting much outside feedback at all. I did show my agent the proposal (which I wrote in quite a bit of detail––more about that just below), and welcomed his feedback and observations, but then it was just me and Eden, and that place swallowed me up. It took maybe four months to write the first draft.
I often don’t write a very detailed outline for a book. A few pages is usually enough to get me going, and then I plan ahead as I’m working, having a big ‘notes’ section at the end of the manuscript that is broken down into ‘the next couple of chapters’ and ‘more general ideas’. For Eden I wrote a more detailed proposal than ever. I planned more, and a lot of that was because I’d researched this novel more than I’m used to (more about research in another post) and I wanted to make sure I put that research to good use. I’ve read too many books where the research is heavily on show, the writer needing to put everything they’ve learned about a subject into their novel. It can be painfully noticeable. The best research, I believe, is often invisible in a book. Like an iceberg, you only reveal a little of what you know, and only where relevant, but you need to know so much more for it to feel real.
I also used a device in Eden that I’ve used before in The Silence, in those chapter epigraphs that reveal more about the outside world. It worked great in The Silence, where the epigraphs were extracts from social media that Ally was reading on her tablet. In Eden they revolve around the Virgin Zones––their history, creation, uses, successes or otherwise. Readers seemed to like having brief glimpses into the world beyond that which the characters interact with, and for me as a writer they’re valuable too, making the world I’m creating feel more rounded and complete. In a way they’re like my use of research mentioned above … a brief sampling of a greater, wider knowledge.
As I’ve mentioned I researched Eden more than a lot of novels I’ve written, by necessity. But sometimes when I’m writing and I’m in the flow, I don’t feel inclined to stop and spend time reading up on a particular point, so I’ll leave a big RESEARCH signpost for myself. The second draft is often when the real work is done anyway, and with Eden I spent a lot of time after I’d written the first draft going through, finding these signposts, and doing the research necessary. Usually it worked out OK.
We live in interesting times right now, and though I’m more than used to working from home, I do miss those coffee shop writing sessions, a lovely cup of coffee and slice of cake by my side. It feels like months since I’ve done that, rather than weeks. But we’ll be through this soon. I hope you like Eden, and that my research doesn’t weigh too heavy in the novel. I had so much fun writing this book, and I think it’s one of my best.
Enjoy, but beware.
Eden has teeth.
About Tim Lebbon
Tim Lebbon is the New York Times bestselling author of Coldbrook, The Silence, and the Relics trilogy. He has also written many successful movie novelizations and tie-ins for Alien and Firefly. Tim has won three British Fantasy Awards, a Bram Stoker Award, a Shocker, a Tombstone and been a finalist for the International Horror Guild and World Fantasy Awards. The Silence is now a Netflix Original Movie, starring Stanley Tucci.
He tweets @timlebbon.
by Tim Lebbon
Titan Books (April 7, 2020)
From the bestselling author of The Silence comes a brand-new, original eco-horror which will delight fans of Jeff VanderMeer and Josh Malerman, set in a near-future world in which self-preservation truly is the first law of nature.
In a time when Earth’s rising oceans contain enormous islands of refuse, the Amazon rainforest is all-but destroyed, and countless species edge towards extinction, the Virgin Zones were established in an attempt to combat the change. Off-limits to humanity and given back to nature, these thirteen vast areas of land were intended to become the lungs of the world.
Dylan leads a clandestine team of adventurers into Eden, the oldest of the Zones. Attracted by the challenges and dangers posed by the primal lands, extreme competitors seek to cross them with a minimum of equipment, depending only on their raw skills and courage. Not all survive.
Also in Dylan’s team is his daughter Jenn, and she carries a secret – Kat, his wife who abandoned them both years ago, has entered Eden ahead of them. Jenn is determined to find her mother, but neither she nor the rest of their tight-knit team are prepared for what confronts them. Nature has returned to Eden in an elemental, primeval way. And here, nature is no longer humanity’s friend.
EDEN is a triumphant return to the genre by one of horror’s most exciting contemporary voices, as Tim Lebbon offers up a page-turning and adrenaline-fuelled race through the deadly world of Eden, poignantly balanced with observations on humanity’s relationship with nature, and each other. Timely and suspenseful, EDEN will seed itself in the imagination of the reader and continue to bloom long after the last page.