Tim Wynne-Jones is a Canadian author who has written picture books, novels for youth and adults, radio dramas and songs for the CBC and for Fraggle Rock. Born in England but raised in British Columbia and Ontario, Tim attended the University of Waterloo and later York University. Tim has won numer awards for his books, encluding the Governor General’s Literary Awards in Canada three times, The Canadian Library Association Price, The Arthur Ellis Award and the Edgar award. He recently took some time to answer 20 questions for the readers here at Book Reviews and More.
1. If you had not become a writer what do you think you would be doing for a living?
Singing. Making visual art. Raising chinchillas. Well, maybe not chinchillas; more likely enchiladas.
2. Who were some of your biggest supporters and contributors to your early success?
My wife, Amanda Lewis; my various publishers, especially the folks at Groundwood Books; the illustrators I worked with, especially Eric Beddows on the Zoom trilogy...
3. Which books or authors had the greatest impact on your work or writing style?
A.A. Milne, Enid Blyton, Walter R. Brooks, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jules Vernes, Richard Brautigan, Herman Hesse, Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Graham Greene, John Le Carre, Philip Pullman, Brian Doyle, etc, etc.
4. What advice do you wish an artist had passed on to you early in your career, which you only learned through experience?
To be patient. To enjoy it all and not be in such an all-fired hurry.
5. What does your writing process look like? Takes us through the steps from idea to publishing?
I get an idea for a scene I really like and try to write that. In order for it to work, it will have to be chock-a-block full of conflict and desire and feature a character I like well enough that I'm going to want to spend the next year or so hanging out with him or her. Once I've written the first chapter, I concentrate on writing the next one. Repeat until finished. Somewhere along the way I realize that I'm writing about something I've always wanted to understand and then I have to keep writing in order to figure out why. Eventually, I also get an idea for an ending. When it's done once. I really, really, really enjoy the second draft because now I know what I'm doing, where I'm going and what I hope to achieve. Eventually I send it to my editor.
6. Do you use a playlist when writing? Are certain books written while predominantly listing to the same music?
Music is a HUGE inspiration to my writing but it's not specific to a particular writing project. Music puts me in the headspace to work -- gives me the feeling, the fire, to try to put into words whatever it is I'm trying to figure out.
7. I once heard Madeleine L'Engle state that her characters were real to her and almost an extended part of her family, she said once that at the dinner table she sat up and stated "Meg just finished her PhD." Are your characters real to you, do you ever get glimpses of what they are up to now, or once you finish a book is that it?
My characters do feel real to me. They go with me everywhere. Whatever I'm doing I wonder what they would be doing if they were there. This is how I come to know them. Meanwhile, I try to get them talking as early as possible. I try to write scenes rather than summary so that I can hear what they have to say. Eventually, it feels as if they're the ones coming up with what they want -- need -- to say, rather than just me putting words in their mouths.
8. What of your books is your favorite and why?
The one I'm going to write next. It's the only book of mine that is really exciting to me because it's sheer, one hundred percent potential right now!
9. What of your books was the hardest to write and why?
Tumbledown Hill is a picture book with only 26 sentences in it but it took 61/2 years to write. That's because it's a puzzle: the first sentence is 26 words long and each subsequent sentence is one word shorter. Then I decided to make it rhyme, as well. Oh yeah, and it had to make sense. It was actually a lot of fun, not really hard, just time-consuming.
10. What books are currently in progress for you? Writing, researching, planning or even just ideas backburner projects that you would like to work on?
I'm writing the fourth and final book in my Rex Zero series. It's called Rex Zero in Deep. I'm also writing an epistolary novel with my wife, Amanda Lewis, which involves a series of letters over several years between a draft dodger in Canada during the Vietnam War and a girl back home.
11. Completely off topic but what TV shows or movies do you enjoy?
I seldom watch TV, but I do watch DVDs of TV shows. My favorites are pretty eclectic: In Treatment, Six Feet Under, Rome, Glee, The Vicar of Dibley...
I love all kinds of movies, no particular genre -- too many to mention, varying from delightful fluff like Noises Off or Love Actually to the stark cinema of Ingmar Bergman. I love Truly, Madly, Deeply; The Fisher King; Little Shop of Horrors (the musical); and all kinds of thrillers.
12. What were some of your favorite authors or books in your teen years who helped shape you?
I tended to read adventure stories and murder mysteries when I was a teen.
13. What are some of your favorite books and authors now?
I read about 5-6 novels a month. It's hard to name favorites other than ones I've just finished, like David Mitchell's Black Swan Green, or Andrew Smith's The Marbury Lens. I tend to keep up with Peter Robinson, Ian Rankin, Harlan Coben, Elizabeth George, Minette Walters, Robert Harris, John Le Carre -- I've read everything of John Le Carre.
14. Two of your books are available in electronic formats but with that comes bootleg distribution. What are your impressions of ebooks and the distribution of them through torrents and other illegal means?
I"m not sure what to think. We're in a huge period of readjustment. There are these new platforms available. I always respect copyright, myself, since I make my living from it, but I know lots of people don't care about it and I'm not about to bludgeon them into changing their minds. Since the technology is there to allow piracy and it's as easy as pie, it's not worth screaming your lungs out over it. We're going to have to find a way to accommodate the new technology that ensures that artists somehow are remunerated for their works. Because there won't be anything left to steal if no one writes books or music or makes art anymore.
15. Some authors monitor torrent sites and have their publishers contact them to remove their content. Do you do so are have someone do so for you?
You know, I kind of bury my head in the sand on this whole thing. There's enough stress in my life without being in a constant state of paranoia that I'm being ripped off.
16. Some of your earlier books are currently out of print, have you thought of rereleasing them as ebooks?
It's a good idea. I haven't really given it much more than passing thought. There seems to be only so many hours in the day and I'm getting old.
17. I once had a university professor state that the true goal of a university education should be to teach one to learn how to think. What would you state should be the goal of higher education and why?
I agree. Learning how to think is critical. I hate to see universities not living up to their name of being universal...okay, I don't know if the worlds university and universal are connected. But my point is that a Liberal Education still seems to me to be a better deal than a BA in sorting yellow widgets. Over specialization in a field means there are people with very limited and narrow knowledge. We live in an age of information, much of which is crap. Information isn't understanding. And understanding isn't wisdom. Do you see much wisdom around? I didn't think so.
18. What advice would you give to teens today, to your readers, what gems of knowledge have you gleaned in life that you would pass on?
Take your ear buds out now and then. Turn off Facebook. Walk in a forest. or by the ocean. Read.
19. If you were stuck on a desert island and could only have 10 books to read again and again, what books would you want with you?
The complete works of Shakespeare. And The House at Pooh Corner.
20. What advice would you give specifically to young aspiring authors and artists?
Read, read, read. Look at art, look at art, look at art. Listen to great music, listen to great music, listen to great music.
Tim, thank you for taking the time to answer the questions. Looking forward to reading some of your books soon.
Book by Tim Wynne-Jones:
Children's picture books:
Madeline and Ermadillo (1976)
Zoom at Sea (1983)
Zoom Away (1985)
The Hour Of the Frog (1985)
I'll Make You Small (1986)
Mischief City (1986)
Architect Of the Moon (1988) (U.S. title: Builder of the Moon)
Zoom Upstream (1992)
The Last Piece of Sky (1993)
Mouse In the Manger (1993)
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
On Tumbledown Hill (1998)
Ned Mouse Breaks Away (2002)
Young adult fiction:
Rosie Backstage (1994 -with Amanda Lewis)
The Book of Changes (1994)
The Maestro (1995) (Australian title: The Flight of Burl Crow, UK title The Survival Game)
Some of the Kinder Planets (1997)
Stephen Fair (1998)
Lord of the Fries and Other Stories (1999)
The Boy in the Burning House (2000)
A Midwinter Night's Dream (2003)
A Thief in the House of Memory (2004)
Rex Zero and the End of the World (2006)
The Uninvited (2009)
Blink & Caution (2011)
Odd's End (1980)
The Knot (1983)
Fastyngange (1988 - UK title: Voices)
The Uninvited (2009)