Interview: Tim Lebbon

ghostPay the Ghost – a Halloween horror tale featuring Nicolas Cage and Sarah Wayne Callies about parents whose child disappears at Halloween – is now available on Blu-ray and DVD. It’s based on a story by Tim Lebbon, which first appeared in the Halloween anthology October Dreams, published by Cemetery Dance. By coincidence, Lebbon’s second novel in the Alien/Predator universe, The Rage War: Incursion, was published a week earlier. Shortly before the release of both, Lebbon spoke with Paul Simpson…



Was Pay the Ghost a story that you always wanted to tell, or were you simply commissioned to write it?

I was approached by one of the editors, Bob Morrish, but my recollection of this is hazy. It was 15 years ago now!

This was in my early days of being published and I seem to remember Bob approaching me and saying, “Can you do a story for us? We need it this week.” I think what had probably happened was one of their other writers had dropped out and they’d gone to their reserve list which I was on at the time. I jumped at the chance – I wanted to work with Cemetery Dance, and I wrote the story, probably over two or three days actually. They took it and published it. I think it’s appeared in one of my collections since then, but other than that I moved on and started writing other stuff and didn’t really give it a second thought after that.

When were there approaches about a movie?

Ian Levy, an independent producer from Midnight Kitchen Productions in New York, approached me probably about six years ago [2009]. He was a big horror fan, had read quite widely in the genre. He had read October Dreams and seen the story and thought it had potential as a movie. He optioned it and then developed it over the next couple of years with a script writer, Dan Kay; then it sort of went quiet for a while. I think there were other producers involved on and off over the time. That’s normal; it’s very rare a book will get optioned and bought and made the year after, unless it’s a huge book like The Martian.

PAY-THE-GHOST-cover-187x300Did you have any input on its expansion and change for the movie?

No, I didn’t. Occasionally a producer will option your work and ask you to write the adaptation. That didn’t happen with this. Ian chatted to me on and off while it was being developed but I didn’t really have any creative input into where the movie was going – the story’s quite different from the movie, but it has its similarities. It’s based around a lost child, the mother and father’s estrangement and the pursuit of the child… but I had no real creative input.

What was the hook for you of the story

From memory, it was about that time I’d become a father recently, so a lot of my writing had started to focus on families in peril and children in peril, so I think that’s where that came from. As I say it’s 15 years ago, but I have a vague memory of flicking through a book of myths and legends and just finding some strange Halloween legend or story somewhere about creatures jumping over fire pits. I can’t quite remember where that came from but that fed into one of the last images in the story – I don’t know if that’s in the final version.

I did read the screenplay originally a few years ago when Dan Kay wrote it originally, and I know it’s been developed since.

Is horror something that you just love, or something you feel inspired to write about?

Most of what I write tends to be horror, or tends to come out with some sort of fantastical element. Apart from a humorous short story I wrote a few years ago, I think The Hunt [Lebbon’s thriller for Avon] is the first thing I’ve written and had published that doesn’t have any supernatural or fantasy element to it.

I try not to analyse too much why I do that – some people are drawn to romance fiction, some to historical fiction, I just write stuff that’s just otherworldly and a little supernatural. I just roll with it.

With The Hunt, I was inspired to write it because I wanted to try a straight thriller anyway, in the spreading-my-wings type thing as a writer, and also because I do endurance sports, it’s the old axiom: write about what you know. It seemed to work out ok that one.

IncursionYou’ve also got the Predator novel out this month. How did that come about? Did it come out of the Alien trilogy you wrote with Christopher Golden and James A. Moore?

Yes: the three of us did that trilogy for Titan and then my editor said, “We want to do a big expansive futuristic militaristic sci-fi story with Aliens and Predators: do you fancy doing it?” I said yes.

How many milliseconds did it take to say yes?

When I was asked to write the first Alien novel, that took about a second; this took about four seconds.

I had to think: it’s a trilogy of tie-in novels. I enjoy doing tie-in novels but they’re not exclusively what I want to do. I prefer writing my own stuff because they’re all mine. Tie-in novels are good fun and it’s a bit of a challenge writing somebody else’s universe anyway. People seem to like them; it wasn’t a difficult choice saying yes to those.

In Incursion, the species aren’t referred to as either Aliens or Predators – they’re Xenomorphs or Yautja. Was that something that came from Fox?

The Xenomorph as a name has been established and the Yautja (however you pronounce that!) is sort of from the wider Predator universe.

It’s a bit of a contradiction: I was told that the canon that I had to take account of are just the Predator films – Alien vs. Predator not so much – but there have been novels and comics, and I think it was in the comics that that name was established. The comics don’t feed into the story but I wanted to take that name because it was better than calling them Predators. It doesn’t sound like a species name to me.

It also gave it more of an SF feel.

That was part of the brief, and what I wanted to do: do my own thing and tell a military sci-fi story featuring these characters. Obviously they’re heavily tied in: the Alien universe seems to be a bit more complex and wider anyway, with Weyland-Yutani; Predators are these things that hunt and kill for glory or whatever.

lebbonI liked the tie-in to Predator 2, a movie that always seems to get overlooked…

It does, yes. I quite like it. I think it’s a good film. It’s nice to do these little things that real fans of the canon will enjoy.

Alien fans probably know a lot more than me about the Alien universe, so I’ve got a duty to them to tie it in properly. I made mistakes in my Alien book: mostly people loved it but the people who didn’t go in in depth and email me about the mistakes – but you’ve just got to be prepared for that. It was the same with the Star Wars novel I did: that got many great reviews and a couple of stinkers.

What are you currently working on?

Yesterday, I typed THE END on the second Rage War book, Alien: Invasion, which I need to go through revisions and edit then hand it in. I’ve written a second thriller for Avon, which is sort of a sequel to The Hunt as it features some of the same characters. I’m waiting to get edit notes on that, and I’ve also written a book called Relics, part of a trilogy for Titan which I’m waiting for edit notes too! A couple of screenplay things – I wrote an animated spooky haunted house things for kids which is in development with a producer at the moment. The Hunt is being developed as a movie: I’ve got high hopes for that.


Pay the Ghost is out now on digital download, DVD and Blu-ray

The Rage War 1: Incursion is out now from Titan Books.

Thanks to Sadari Cunningham at Fetch for assistance in setting up this interview

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