Tim Flanagan Fights Martians and Writes Books

It’s not often I get to interview someone like Tim Flanagan. Tim is NOT just another author. He’s THE science-fiction author of today. I want you to read what he has to say–and then disagree with that statement. He’s a fantastic writer, a well-read reader and most importantly one of those bestselling authors. Enjoy!


the moon stealers all books

If you could work with any author who would it be?

John Wyndham. He’s the guy that wrote Day of the Triffids, The Midwich Cuckoos, and The Kraken Wakes in the 1950′s. I’ve loved his books ever since I was a child. Although, at the time, they were classed as science fiction, they were more like prophetic fiction, dealing with issues such as genetic engineering and human evolution that are still as topical today as they were fifty years ago. I want my own novels to have a sense of realism and possibility that makes your spine tingle from an underlying simmering threat that you realise could happen. Although I haven’t had the pleasure of writing with Mr Wyndham, I have been lucky enough to work with other creative people such as Dylan Gibson, the illustrator I worked with on The Curious Disappearance of Professor Brown. I’m also looking at collaborating with other artists on cover art for my future projects.

Who is your favourite author, and is your writing style similar to theirs?

The authors that I like tend to change over time, but my most favourite author whose books I have read over and over again is a guy called Michael Cox. He’s only written two fictional books, but his first, The Meaning of Night, is a gem. It’s set in Victorian London and reminds me so much of a Dickens book. I wish I had written it. Currently I’m reading Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which I’m really surprised with. Considering how long ago it was written, it reads very easy with language that is not too dissimilar to modern day. Although both of those books are historical fiction, the style and genre couldn’t be further from my own. My writing style has been said by many to be very visual which is a great compliment especially when you consider the market I’m aiming for – visually stimulated teenagers.

What’s your favourite part of a book?

I enjoy writing the beginning of a book. As you lay down the foundations of the world and its characters, you get a very privileged peek into a different world, life or event. These are very private moments between an author and their book and its like nurturing a baby and watching it grow. These times can be just as exciting for a writer as they are for the reader.

When naming your characters, do you give any thought to the actual meaning?

I give the names of my characters an awful lot of thought and consideration. It’s a part of the writing process that I enjoy and find fascinating. I like to try and pick names that suit the character and reflect a part of their personality. The Internet is a great place to find names which, although the meanings are not commonly known these days, I believe there is some sort of inbuilt ancient instinct in us that collates centuries of information to help you form an opinion of that person before they even open their mouth. Using Latin in a name is also quite a useful way of creating names for people and especially creatures.

How have your personal experiences affected your writing?

I don’t think they have, but a lot of my personality is in my writing. Everything I write about I find fascinating and writing about it is a great way to research and learn something new.

What genre of books do you like to read? Do you limit yourself to only the genre that you write yourself?

I read many different genres depending on what I feel like at the time. One of the best things for me, when I finish reading a book is standing in front of my book shelves and choosing what I will read next. Recent genres that I have read include Fantasy by George R R Martin, Historical Detective Fiction by Philip Kerr and Military Humour by George MacDonald Fraser. With my writing, I like to mix up genres a bit. With the Moon Stealer series, there is a bit sci-fi, fantasy, adventure and dystopian. Then another book I’ve written is a comical detective story. I like to write what I enjoy and I have a broad range of interests as I’m sure most children have. Why should they be confined to one genre? Being young is all about experimenting and finding the things you like, and I think that can also apply that to teen books, there is so much more than vampire romances out there for them.

Were you always good at writing?

No. I still have a report my English teacher wrote when I was about 14 or 15. In it he said that I was not going to pass my English GCSE because I wrote in short sentences. Being really stubborn, I decided to prove him wrong and set about writing a story that went on to gain the highest mark he had ever given to a student. When I was 7 or 8 I remember sitting down and writing stories during the school summer holidays in an attempt to pass the time and I would often staple sheets of paper together to make a little book and draw some pictures to go with it. I’ve always enjoyed writing but find that I now have the motivation and dedication to stick with a story until the end, something that maybe I didn’t have so much when I was younger.

How do you get started with writing a story (as in, how do you start developing the story, how do you get inspired for it)?

Inspiration comes from the most unexpected places some times. I have a little notebook that I keep next to my computer which has odd words or phrases written in it. They are just words that stimulated some sort of reaction in me that make me want to find out more. The inspiration for The Moon Stealers came, quite innocently, one morning nearly three years ago when I was in the bathroom. My son and I were getting ready, and he just asked me to tell him a story and the idea for the creatures in the Moon Stealers arrived. He liked the idea and wanted to draw some pictures so I began writing so he had something to illustrate. When I’m thinking of a new story, I allow a few ideas to bounce around in my head in quiet places like the shower or when I’m driving. That generally gives me the start and main characters in the book. I ultimately know what the ending will need to be, but not necessarily what the journey will be to get there. At that point I start writing. I get a feel for the characters and allow the story to move forward itself.

What advice would you give to people who “run out of creativity” when writing?

Take a break. Sometimes the brain just gets exhausted and no matter how hard you try, you can’t get over the brick wall. Allow your brain to focus on other things, a computer game, a film, family outings. Although I don’t run out of creative juices (I always have the next two or three books percolating away inside me), I do run out of energy. That’s my cue to take a break and not write. My brain may still think about the story and it works out a way to move it forward, then usually after a week I’m desperate to get back to writing and it flows quicker than ever.

What is the most important lack in your life?

I lack enough time to do everything I want to do. Juggling a “real-world” job and family, whilst trying to get time to write can sometimes be a struggle. It’s a shame that during the 24 hours of a day we have to waste 7-8 hours sleeping. I could be so much more productive.

Why a fictional book? You are well known as a “non-fiction” writer—what caused you to decide to write fiction?

I wrote two non-fiction books back in 2007 and 2008 to do with my day job, but they are very specific and the market is always going to be limited, plus they weren’t really very exciting! You can learn from a non-fiction book, but a fiction book is a new world waiting to be discovered, one that excites an emotion and entertains you. Reading is a sacrifice of time so it has to be worthwhile. These days I’m usually reading a fiction and non fiction book at the same time – one feeds my mind, the other feeds my soul.

You are in Waterstones looking at books—you see your new book on the shelf—what do you think?

My initial reaction would be to make sure that the spine is not facing in and the front cover is clearly on display. Then I would probably point it out to my wife or children, making sure I spoke just loud enough for other customers in the shop to hear without being too obvious. There is huge satisfaction in seeing your name on the front of a book. I get a huge buzz out of it every time I have a new book released.

You are on a plane and someone asks if you are Tim Flanagan and raves about your new book—how do you handle it?

I have no issues admitting who I am and I would feel very humble that they enjoyed my writing. I would happily answer their questions and be grateful to have met them. We all need some sort of positive feedback to encourage us to keep writing. I had a similar experience to this at a school recently that me and my son were going to look at. A boy spotted me in the corridor and said “I’ve got your book!” I thanked him and asked him if he enjoyed it. I think my son was more embarrassed than me! Without readers and fans, our books are just lines of ink on a page. Stories only come alive when they are read.

You have the #1 bestseller in America—what would be your first thought?

I would have to double check first! Then ring my wife, closely followed by my mum.

Are you at ease when interviewing? Do you find interviews generally exciting or boring?

I’m happy to be interviewed and like giving an insight into my life and personality. For an audience to connect with a writer they need to get to know them and get to like them, and it’s the least we can do as thanks for investing their time and money in our books.

Are you a man with strong convictions and do those convictions shine through when you write a novel?

I’m a very moral and honest person. I have a very open mind to a lot of things but will always research things myself before making up my own mind. I don’t like being swayed by others people’s opinions.

What puts you off when reading a book? Bad grammar? Awful editing? Slow stories?

Slow stories without a doubt. If the story is interesting, fast paced and absorbing, your eye can easily skim over spelling mistakes and typos.

Is paradise self-made or can it be found? Is writing your paradise?

I have found an amazing sense of enjoyment and contentment from writing. Everybody has different aspects to their soul that need to be fed. My creative side needs to make something and what could be better than a story that no one else has read or seen until I press publish. I believe you hold your own destiny in your hands and it is up to you to move your life in that direction. It won’t be easy, but nothing worthwhile is. It’s not going to just land in your lap, you have to put the effort in, it’s the price you pay.

You’re out on a date with a woman and she tells you that she hates reading—does that end the date or do you just consider that to be her loss?

If she truly ‘hates’ reading, she probably dislikes books as objects as well and I could never live in a house that doesn’t have books. She may also be unsupportive with regards to my work. So, I think it would have to end before it went any further. Life’s too short – surround yourself with people who understand you.

You enter “The Twilight Zone” and find yourself in a world without books or reading. Is your first reaction to explore this new place or to leave in disgust at the illiteracy of this new world?

I would be torn between two minds. I would be intrigued to find out why there are no books, but part of me would feel empty without being surrounded by the written word.

Why do you think reading has become such a rarity in the UK? Do you blame video games and modern pop music for its decline?

No, cultures change and trends fade in and out, but there will always be books. Recently the change in publishing and the arrival of Kindles has made books and reading more accessible to everyone, and at a price anyone can afford. There is such a diversity of books available today, that there is quite literally something for everyone. There will always be alternative distractions like video games and music but there will always be a need for stories. Stories build the games, provide lyrics for songs and adventures for films.

Do you agree that writers have to be salesmen in the Indie world?

Totally. Once the book has been written, your journey as a writer has only just begun. Most people think the hard work has finished once they write the last line, but the hardest part awaits. Marketing your book amongst the swamp of other books is an ever growing difficulty.

1 comment

  1. Thanks so much for interviewing me today Nick. It was a fun interview to do, especially as they weren’t the usual sort of questions that get asked all the time.