I have a book in front of me that’s fiendishly hard to classify, as it contains elements, among others, of the thriller, the paranormal, and the weird. But these many facets combine to form a polished and original end-result; one particular gem is the unique spin on the mortals-immortals relationship that sees humanity using them as a source of energy.
Its believable, down-to-earth characters depict pleasantly imperfect people, who must face situations both of and beyond this world. We meet protagonist Chris Copeland, his job description being neatly encapsulated in the book’s title, who crosses paths with a chain-smoking, chain-swearing Hungarian detective who is certain to find her way into reader’s memories. Together they provide plenty of fascinating interplay, and form an unlikely human team facing off against fleeting inhuman entities whose brevity forces us to gulp down concentrated doses of spookiness.
I was fortunate to hunt down Tim Lees and subject him to a round of questioning in an attempt to shed light on the thought processes behind the darker side of the creation of such a novel.
Your novel, THE GOD HUNTER, could be described as a paranormal thriller. What appeals to you most about writing for the paranormal genre?
You can play with ideas. Your story automatically has an extra level to it. On the one hand, you have the usual matter expected of a novel such as characters and plot, but then you have this sort of mythic level on the top of that, setting up all kinds of resonances. If everything goes well, it can be a very pleasing combination.
Where did the initial seed for THE GOD HUNTER come from?
The sight of a book on my (now) wife’s bookshelf, called Ghost Hunters. I’ve never even looked at the book, but somehow the title sparked the story, and I very quickly had an idea of how it would work—especially the one mistake that comes back to haunt the hero. Then I upped the ante and changed “Ghost” to “God.”
I think writers, like gamblers, tend to be superstitious about certain things, and for much the same reason—we never know if what we do is going to work or not. My personal superstition is that the story already exists somewhere, independently, and my job is to put it onto paper. Sometimes it just seems to download into my head, as the basic shape of THE GOD HUNTER did, and that’s a wonderful thing. It gives you confidence to go on with it even when it may present problems or be unclear in certain episodes. Other times, it’s just pure slog—trying this, trying that, seeing what works. Once the story’s done, I don’t think you can see a difference between the two working methods, but they’re certainly very different processes when writing.
My previous novel, Frankenstein’s Prescription, was another mental download. Those were strokes of luck, and they paid off. I’ve had short stories that likewise wrote themselves, but more commonly, there’s just a glimmer of an idea, which then has to be worked up, put away for a bit, and worked on again. It can be a long process.
So you feel ideas for a book are often out there waiting to be inscribed. How about characters, and Chris Copeland in particular? Does he draw on any of your traits?
I share all his bad traits, of which he has a few. He’s certainly heroic (that’s the bit I made up), but he’s a reluctant hero. At the back of his mind he always has the notion that “I could just walk away from this…” except he doesn’t. He takes pride in his job but also knows the risks involved, and he’s aware he may have outlived his luck. For that, I’m drawing partly on my own experience, but ramping everything up to thriller level. Personally, if I came across any of the stuff Chris encounters, I’d run a mile, and it’s important that he has this option too, even if he doesn’t use it.
Despite his skills and his profession, Chris is in many ways an ordinary guy. He’s our guide to this strange world, and it’s important that we feel we can trust him, whether he’s telling us about a restaurant in Budapest or a factory in the U.S. full of captured gods. In some ways, his life isn’t so different from our own—he gets annoyed at his boss, complains about his job, and so forth. He’s also, I hope, quite funny about it all.
Who is your favorite secondary character in the story?
Anna Ganz, the chain-smoking Hungarian detective he partners up with. Indeed, she’s my favorite character all round. In the period between completion and selling the book, I got a number of rejections (not too many, actually—I was lucky), and one seemingly promising I-like-this-but-want-some-changes (I have learned to be wary of those, but that’s another matter). Inevitably, there were times when I found myself wondering if the book was actually any good, and the one thing I always came back to was the character of Anna. She seemed a genuinely engaging figure, and one I feel I had no conscious part in making. I think she was just out there, asking to be let in, reeking of vodka and tobacco smoke. I like the fact that she’s driven, anxious about her career, clear-eyed about the corruption of the system in which she works, but still obsessed with bringing the killer to justice. Her personal life is a wreck but she takes her job more seriously than the people who gave it to her do.
I see from your biography that you’ve done a wide variety of jobs. Have any provided particular skills or experiences for your writing?
Undoubtedly. The good thing about a day job, other than paying the rent, is that it pushes you into situations you would never normally choose and brings you into contact with people you’d never meet socially. That’s not always pleasant of course, and often it’s the nastier aspects of such experience that end up in stories.
I had a lengthy gig at a psychiatric hospital in Britain, which opened my eyes to the extraordinary and varied worlds of the long-term mentally ill. I met people who believed—no, who knew—that they were Jesus, or Jimi Hendrix, or that a particular TV entertainer had hypnotized them and was controlling their thoughts. Yet in other ways these same people could be rational, engaging, and intelligent. You don’t come up against that without asking some serious questions about what it means to be human, and how we all interpret the world around us.
Prior to that, I worked in academia, mostly doing research and organizing conferences. Again, met a lot of people I wouldn’t normally come in contact with, government and media types, et cetera.
Finally, what’s your best single line of advice for aspiring thriller/paranormal writers?
I’ve always thought Evelyn Waugh’s dictum was worth bearing in mind: “Make things happen.” As long as something’s going on, you’ll keep your reader interested.
Tim Lees is a British author living in Chicago. He has published numerous short stories, including the collections The Life to Come (Elastic Press) and News from Unknown Countries (Amazon), as well as the novel Frankenstein’s Prescription, described by Publisher’s Weekly as “an insightful and literary tale of terror.”
To learn more about Tim, please visit his website.