My First Thriller – Tim Lebbon on The Hunt


I’m a debut writer again.  This is very exciting, because for almost twenty years I’ve been trying to become an overnight success!  And now I have another chance.

That’s flippant, but there’s also a serious point behind it.  Writers often appear on the scene, as if from out of nowhere, and their novel hits hard and well, reaches the bestseller lists, and they’re an overnight success.  But I can guarantee you that writer, whether or not it’s their first novel, has been working at their craft for years, if not decades.  They’ve been reading within and beyond the genre they’re writing in, honing their craft, finding their voice.  I believe it’s how real writers work.  They’re born, not created.  Sometimes it might take them a while to discover that they’re writers, but it happens in the end.

huntSo, after more than thirty published novels, my debut thriller The Hunt is out now in paperback and ebook from the very excellent Avon.  It’s a very different novel for me (in some ways … in other ways, not so different, and more about this soon).  And working with Avon has been a different experience, too.  I’m not used to photo shoots, radio interviews and national press appearances!  It’s all very exciting, and yet I’m still being asked, ‘So why a thriller, now?’

I’ll try to answer that.

The easy answer is, The Hunt is a novel that was itching to be written, and most of the time I write just what I want to write.  Again, most of the time that becomes a horror or fantasy novel, and I very, very rarely write something with no supernatural or fantastical elements.

In that regard, The Hunt really is a first.  It’s a straight thriller, very fast-paced and action-packed.  I wrote it on spec, not under contract, because I had to write it.  And that’s worked out fine.

A more complex answer is more to do with writing about what I know, and planning for the future.

The Future

I’ve wanted to write a thriller for a long time.  The first novels I wrote and finished in my teens were thrillers, and I’ve always had an inkling that I’d return to thrillers one day as a professional writer.  I’ve been writing as a full-time career for almost ten years now (having been published ten years prior to that), and things are OK, I’m prolific and I also do a fair amount of tie-in work.  But I’m also aware that it’s necessary for a writer to spread their wings––at least, it was for me––both to fulfil a deep-set creative urge, and also (slightly more mercenary) to ensure the income continues to flow.  I call myself a horror writer, but I’ve always considered myself a writer, with no real prefix.  It’s just that most of what I write ends up as horror!  So switching to thriller mode was much, much easier than I thought it might be.  In fact I had more fun writing The Hunt than I’ve had in quite some time.  And that’s because I was writing about…

What I know

I’d always wanted to write a thriller, but the content of The Hunt is inspired purely by a new love of mine––endurance sport.

New Year’s Day 2011 and I was almost 14st, unfit and bloated after a decadent Christmas.  I felt like crap.  A few days later I met an old mate of mine, Pete, and he’d got fit.  Lost weight, started running … basically took to the hills, mountain running and walking.  It really inspired me, and by the end of that meeting I’d committed to doing the national Three Peaks Challenge with him and a couple more mates.

Looking back now, I think there are three points where my life has undergone a drastic change.  The first was having our first child.  One day there’s just the two of you, then a couple of days later you leave hospital with a new human being that you love without question and who you have to look after, without the aid of an instruction manual!

The second was leaving work to write full-time.  Good day, that.

The third was at that meeting with Pete, when I committed to get fit.  I started hill walking, then running, and over time cycling and swimming.  I’d never ridden a road bike, and I couldn’t swim a length front crawl.  I had to learn.

In June of 2011 we completed the 3 Peaks challenge.  It was amazing.  I almost died on Snowdon (buy me a beer someday and I’ll tell you the story).  I’d done something I never thought myself capable of.  In 2012 I started running more seriously and completed my first two marathons.  I also raced my first short triathlons that year, and in 2013 I completed my first Ironman (a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a marathon, all within 17 hours).

I’d always believed that I needed to aim for something almost unreachable to encourage myself to get fitter, and it had worked.  And of course, during all those long training hours––at the height of ironman training I was out 6 days each week, sometimes twice each day, biking 120 miles per week, running 30, swimming 3––I was thinking about how I could write about it.

The Hunt is the result.

It felt very natural to write.  I didn’t have to adjust my working methods or my mindset (any more than it had already been adjusted by my change in fitness and focus).  But there were two main differences between writing horror novels and The Hunt. 

First, I had to do a lot more research than I was used to.  But it was fun research!  I went to Snowdonia and climbed Snowdon again.  I spent time in the hills.  I researched weaponry, helicopters … and a slightly less-fun research topic, trophy hunting.

The second difference was that I was writing about something I knew a little about.  I know what it’s like to run until your legs cramp, you feel like puking, you’re cold and wet and miserable and you’d like nothing more than a mug of tea and a warm room … because I do that stuff for fun!

I’ve never been shot at, though.  I guess there’s still time.


Tim Lebbon is a New York Times-bestselling horror, thriller and fantasy writer from a little village in South Wales. He’s written over 30 novels, including several in collaboration with Christopher Golden, as well as dozens of novellas and hundreds of short stories.

His latest novel, THE HUNT, is his first thriller. Lee Child calls it ‘A great thriller … breathless all the way.’

He’s won four British Fantasy Awards, a Bram Stoker Award and a Scribe, as well as being shortlisted for the prestigious World Fantasy and Shirley Jackson Awards. A movie of his short story Pay The Ghost, starring Nicolas Cage, is due for release in 2015, and he has several other movie projects in development. He loves running, biking and swimming, and often tries to put them all together in long-distance triathlons. He raced my first Ironman in 2013. Tim’s also written a handful of tie-in projects connected to the Alien, Predator, Star Wars and Hellboy universes.

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