“Reconstructing Amy” won the 2001 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Short Fiction. What did it mean to you to have your work recognized by your peers with such an award?
That was very nice, and quite a surprise! I was also up for Best Collection that year, so it was quite an honour sitting at the table and hearing my name read out with so many writers I read and respected. I think that was the year Neil Gaiman turned up with a spider bite on his face. Cool guy.
To me, “Reconstructing Amy” is a love story told through the exploration of grief and pain. What inspired this particular tale?
It’s a long time ago to even remember that . . . I think it was the idea of dolls and how different people imbue them with different meanings. Some people will look at a doll and think it’s cute, others that it’s horrific. I liked the idea of a grieving man finding solace in the strangest of places. Grief can do peculiar things to you.
Dolls are a favorite trope of the horror genre. Hollow eyes, painted faces, bits of stuffing and tattered cloth; dolls are both comfortable and chilling. Here you shake things up a bit and make good use of dolls as vehicles of the supernatural and as agents of grief, turning the trope on its ear. How do you push your own boundaries? How do you challenge yourself as a writer?
I think the first thing I try to do is tell a good story. Pushing boundaries isn’t necessarily on my mind while I’m writing, although I try to be as original as I can. As for challenging myself, I try not to get too comfortable with what I’m working on. If that happens, I’ll slip onto another project for a while, or try a different approach. Being too comfortable can lead to being too laid back, and to write well you always need to be on edge.
You cannot separate horror from the emotional experience. The genre thrives on latching on to the lighter, happier parts of the psyche and dragging them into the shadows. In your opinion, what is it about the thrill of fear that keeps some readers coming back for more?
I think people like being assured that their life isn’t really that bad, and reading something horrendous in a book—which they can then put down and step away from—helps. Maybe. But I’m also cautious not to examine our love of darker themes too much. I just accept it, work with it, and I have that fascination myself, too. I think the more of a thinker you are, the more likely you are to dwell on darker subjects. I’ve heard it suggested that we’re the only intelligent animal that is aware of its own mortality, and for some, the idea of that limited lifespan can be hard to handle. Maybe reading and indulging in horror is the only way to not go mad with it all . . .
“Pay The Ghost” is the most recent of your works to be made into a film (the trailer of which looks fabulous). How do you feel the horror experience differs based on the presentation media (film, written word, audio, video game)?
It’s easier to scare people with a movie, but a novel can be more disturbing. I’ve never jumped while reading a novel, but often do watching something on the screen. Sometimes it’s a cheap jump—a door slamming open accompanied with a jolt of music. Sometimes it’s a more refined effect (the tall guy walking through the door in It Follows). A book can have a longer lasting, more subtle effect.
What scares Tim Lebbon? What gives you shivers in the middle of the night?
Not a lot. I get my fears down on the page. Although I have developed a fear of heights!
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