Charles Tan Interviews Tim Lebbon

Tim Lebbon

Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. How did you come up with the concept for The Thief of Broken Toys?

This was one of those strange ones where I had a title first.  That might sound glib, but it’s worked for me several times now, and each time I’ve come up with a story of which I’m very proud to actually attach the title to (The Reach of Children, Mannequin Man and the Plastic Bitch, and The Thief of Broken Toys).  So, the title was there, and then Brett Savory asked me to write something for ChiZine Publications.  I thought around this title a bit, and knew that I wanted this to be something heartfelt, unusual, and also a little experimental.    The story took root with the thief, and everything else flowed very nicely from there.  It became a very challenging story to write––it’s about the terrible pain of grief––but it was also quite cathartic as well.  Since my mother died five years ago, I’ve written a lot about grief, what it can do to a person, and how it is a different experience for everyone.

Early in the story, you shift perspective from second person to first person to third person. What made you decide to utilize this technique and what were the challenges in doing so?

As I said above, with this novella I felt a real desire to stretch my writery wings a little.  It was refreshing coming straight off a novel to write a novella for CZP, because it could have been anything I wanted it to be.  There were no boundaries and no restrictions, and I wanted to try something difficult, and unusual.  I love the second person passages in this story.  Some people insist that it’s almost impossible to pull off successfully, but I think it suits the story perfectly––no one really knows who or what my thief is, so who’s to say he can’t view all the story’s characters from a distance, all the time?  I think it also gives the reader a sense of omnipotence, while the guts of the story is still a very intense, emotional dialogue in Ray’s mind.  In short … I just wanted to try something different.

In your opinion, what are the strengths of the novella format, and how is it a good fit for The Thief of Broken Toys?

I absolutely love writing novellas.  For me, they rarely present me with the same scope problems that a novel might––worries about the middle part, concerns at illogical plot twists.  And they also flow easier for me than short stories, probably because I can stretch my wings a little and get into things a little deeper.  I think the novella suits genre fiction, and especially horror or dark fantasy stories, perfectly.

I’ve become pretty good at working out stories to suit a length if I have to––if I’m writing a novel, I’m OK at coming up with a novel-length idea.  And with novellas, it’s not just a case of snatching a short story idea and expanding it.  The most successful novellas feel novella length at very early planning and note-taking stages.  The Thief of Broken Toys always was going to be this length, because it has a depth and breadth that a short story would not serve.

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