Click here to read Tim Turnbull’s “Under a Half Moon.”
Tim Turnbull lives in rural Scotland. His first collection of short stories was published by Postbox Press in February. He’s recently had stories accepted by Gutter and Dark Lane Anthology and also completed a novel as part of a PhD. His poetry is published by Donut Press. A former lumberjack, he works mostly in adult literacy especially in prisons.
1. What made you want to become a writer?
It was an extension, I suppose, of a general urge and compulsion to make things. I was always drawing and inventing stories as a child. I made absurdist satirical comics at school and played in, and wrote songs for, punk bands after I left. I moved on to poetry from there, inspired by the nascent slam scene in England. We toured North Carolina and environs with a slam team from London in 1996. I made poetry into stage shows in the 2000s, but only turned to short fiction after spending a fortnight as poet in residence at the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival. They lent me a spooky old wooden house by the sea to live in and I read most of M.R. James’ ghost stories there.
From then on, I determined to concentrate on improving my prose-writing. I’ve completed a collection of short stories, which is published, have a novel finished and another started. I’m not sure I sat down, though, and thought I want to become a writer. It just seemed a logical development.
2. What is your genre or writing style and has it changed over time?
There’s a spectrum of fantastic fiction with mobile and multiplying labels and sub-genre that may be useful for marketing, but ain’t necessarily so for the practitioner. I’m attracted to fantasy and horror, but prefer it low-key. I think what I aim for falls somewhere between Weird fiction and magic realism. I was first turned on to MR when I was given a gift of a copy of Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude in the 80s, but I also like early twentieth century Weird from the likes of Blackwood, Machen, and especially Lovecraft. I suppose I’m trying to scratch out a little space somewhere between those two poles.
Farah Mendlesohn’s Rhetorics of Fantasy (Wesleyan University Press, 2013) has some useful ways of analyzing generic distinctions. I was struck by Lovecraft’s advice successful fantastic fiction could only be created ‘through the maintenance of a careful realism in every phase of the story except that touching on the one given marvel’, and took it to heart. My objective is not to write horror for horror’s sake, or weirdness as an end in itself, but to find big metaphors for real world horrors.
3. What has helped you the most in the writing pursuit?
Universities and adult education. Though the impulse to make has always been there for me, I’ve often needed something to legitimize it and to give me the structure and discipline to undertake the next big project. When I started writing poetry for performance, I took an evening class. I didn’t do my first degree until I was thirty-five. Each time I wanted to improve my work I signed up for a course. The novel was written as part of a PhD. I’m currently taking a night-class in oil painting.
This is probably why I enjoy working in adult literacy and creative writing in the community and with ‘non-traditional’ students. It’s a real pleasure seeing someone give themselves permission to make art.
4. How would you describe your writing practice?
I do adult education work three days a week and have two days devoted to writing, though that seems to include quite a bit of house-keeping as well these days – arranging readings and performances, getting submissions ready. I do non-essential creative stuff at the weekend, but also scratch down ideas any spare moment that comes along: lunch hours &c. The hardest thing is remembering to put aside proper time for just thinking. Mere activity is not necessarily productive work.
5. What are you writing now?
I’ve a poem to write for a folk horror imprint, which I’m struggling with a bit, but not panicking about (yet); a couple of short stories on the boil that I’d like to finish; and the other novel, which I’ll return to when the stories have full drafts.
6. Where can someone find out more about your work?
My website’s a good start: http://www.timturnbull.co.uk. I post dates of events and readings, and quite a lot of nonsense on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/tim.turnbull.7; and tweet similar tomfoolery: @rawhorse.